The youth have spoken on climate change, and their message is clear: inaction will no longer be tolerated.
Over 200 students from the Albuquerque area walked out of class on Friday afternoon. They converged on Johnson Field in protest of governmental failures to address climate change. The student-led demonstration, in lockstep with a growing worldwide movement known as the School Strike for Climate, demanded elected officials and businesses face the reality of human-caused climate change and take steps to mitigate it.
It was organized by Fight For Our Lives, a student-activist group formed in response to the Stoneman Douglas high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., in February of last year. The protest ended in a march from Johnson Field to the intersection of Central and Carlisle, where the junction was blocked for the better part of an hour.
Izzy Griego, a 14-year-old student from Media Arts Collaborative Charter School and an organizer for the protest, said that since adults aren't taking charge of the situation, it was up to the students.
"They know that this is a challenge and it's happening right now, but they're greedy and don't want to lose money in order to save our planet," Griego said. "Us, being the youth, needed to go out there and make a splash in the community, because it's our future that we're fighting for."
As chants of "climate change is not a lie, do not let our planet die" faded away, a group of speakers from various schools around the city began the official proceedings at 1 p.m. They lamented the lack of engagement from government and civic leaders and spoke at length about the dangers of a changing climate, drawing cheers by excoriating the fossil fuel industry and plastic pollution. Several motorists passing by on Redondo Drive honked their appreciation, and curious onlookers filtered in and out over the course of the goings-on.
Griego noted after the protest that the cause she came to fight for is universal, saying that the effects of climate change will be felt by everyone.
"We don't all have to be nice to each other or like it, but we do need to work together somehow," Griego said. "I think that this is a good way for us all to work together and try to save our planet from a drastic crisis that's affecting us right now."
The march segment started soon after the speeches wrapped up, with call and response chants starting up again in earnest. As there was no police escort and streets weren't cordoned off, students on bicycles shielded the group from traffic and cleared the way forward. Colorful banners and signs were in no short supply as the crowd wended their way down Central, blockading the right lane along with the unused Albuquerque Rapid Transit bus lane.
The protesters came to a halt upon reaching the intersection with Carlisle, fanning out and shutting down traffic in both directions. Tables and chairs from a volunteer's truck were set up along crosswalks, and students greeted the impasse of commuters with yellow banners reading "Climate Crisis". At one point, more than five ABQ Ride buses were left idling as they were unable to turn around.
Cries of "our intersection, our planet" and "this is what democracy looks like" echoed around the street for at least 30 minutes before Albuquerque police officers arrived, although interaction with protesters was nearly nonexistent. A visibly frustrated bus driver was shepherded safely through the protesters by officers, and the march retraced its path back to Johnson Field soon after. It was unclear if it was at the behest of APD or a planned departure by organizers.
After reaching their destination and posing for a group photo, students dispersed, with some remaining behind to lounge in the mid-afternoon sun. Vivian McCullough, a 16-year-old student at Sandia High School and a co-founder of the school's environment club, thought that people took notice of the endeavor.
"Hopefully we got the attention of the government," McCullough said. "With all of the other strikes that are happening at the same time... that attention should keep the debate going and get more people worried about climate change."
The global school strike movement was ignited in August of last year, when Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg sat alone outside the Swedish parliament building to protest government apathy relating to climate change. The "Skolstrejk för klimatet" protests reached their apex (to date) when an estimated 1.4 million students in over 2,000 cities took part in climate action walkouts and related events on March 15.
Ward McCartney of 350 New Mexico, a state chapter of the environmental organization 350.org, came in support of the event and said the students' activism was "wonderful" to see.
"This is the type of thing America needs to wake up to," McCartney said. "We have now 11 years to get off fossil fuels, and if we don't, then (there isn't much future) for my kids and my grandkids."
The protest was staged against the backdrop of an environmentally hostile administration — President Donald Trump stated his intent to withdraw the U.S. from the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change in 2017 and has overseen an extensive rollback of environmental regulations. Democrats in the House voted in favor of returning to the Paris Agreement on Thursday, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed that the bill won't reach the floor.
Newly elected Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has pushed an ambitious environmental agenda, and the state Legislature passed the Energy Transition Act during this year's 60 day session. The bill overhauls the state's energy system with the stated aim of reaching 100% renewable energy by 2045, but it saw push back from Republicans and the oil and gas industry, which accounts for two-thirds of the state's revenue.
Protest organizer Griego considered the protest a success nevertheless, and she had a word to say to those who might consider her too young to engage in a political struggle.
"We definitely made a big splash in the community," Griego said. "I think that'll definitely cause a lot of people to give us the attention that we deserve."
"Just because we're teenagers doesn't mean we can't have a voice."
Andrew Gunn is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @agunnwrites.