More than 100 South Whidbey students walked out of school on Friday as part of a global movement to demand climate action.
The walkout was organized by local student activist group United Student Leaders, or USL. At the group’s urging, the city of Langley declared a climate emergency earlier this year. Now, USL members are hoping their civil disobedience will prompt the county to do the same.
The demonstration began at 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 24. Middle and high school students left their fourth period classes early and marched to nearby Castle Park, where they were met by a group of community members who had come out with signs to support the students and join the call for climate justice.
South Whidbey’s was just one of countless protests that took place all over the world Sept. 24 as part of the “Uproot the System” movement championed by Fridays for Future, the youth-led climate strike organization founded by Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg.
According to Fridays for Future’s website, uprooting the system means examining the ways in which the climate crisis and global social justice infringements exacerbate one another, then making the systemic change necessary to cut off the cycle.
USL leaders addressed this concept in their speeches at the Castle Park rally.
“Climate activism is much more than promising sustainability without accountable action,” said Claire Philp, a South Whidbey High School student and USL member. “It is desubsidizing the fossil fuel and meat and dairy industries, desegregating communities, food justice, abolishing the filibuster, dismantling capitalism, supporting climate refugees and uplifting BIPOC, women and LGBTQIA+ voices.”
USL media liaison and South Whidbey High School student Eva Wirth said the students who attended the rally did so because they understand that the consequences of climate change are worse than the consequences they might face for walking out of school.
Wirth said some teachers told the students they would mark students as absent if they left class during fourth period to participate in the climate strike. An unexcused Friday absence would exclude student athletes from participating in weekend sporting events.
Still, as youth who aren’t old enough to vote or run for office, the high schoolers maintained civil disobedience was their only avenue for demanding change, despite the trouble they might get in with the school for their strike.
“Inaction on the climate crisis could be the end of humanity, and we aren’t even offered a seat at the table where the reality of a climate crisis is being ignored,” Wirth said.
After the rally at the park, the students and community members, around 175 people in total, marched through the park and down Maxwelton Road, holding signs and chanting slogans such as “One planet, one chance” and “This is what democracy looks like.”
USL founder and South Whidbey High School student Maggie Nattress said the students’ goal is for Island County to follow Langley’s lead in declaring a state of climate emergency and taking actions to mitigate the effects of climate change locally.