Saying their classes could wait but the climate couldn’t, hundreds of high school students converged on the capitol Friday to call for action on climate change and demand environmental justice.
They joined the millions of students around the world who had walked out school to do the same.
“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children,” student-activist Max Prestigiacomo reminded the youthful crowd packed on the steps of the capitol. Prestigiacomo is a Middleton High School senior and was one of the lead organizers of the event.
Prestigiacomo directed attendees to a voter registration table and encouraged those who could vote to make their voices heard. He and other student speakers pressed for urgent action on climate change, on both global and local scales.
They called on their own schools to commit to practices like recycling and to update curriculum for a greater emphasis on sustainability.
“This strike has to be the turning point for all of us, or we are not going to save the planet in 11 years,” said Ella Roach, a Middleton High School junior and climate strike organizer. “Either you are part of the problem or you are part of the solution. Which are you?”
Students also noted that climate change has a greater impact on some populations than others, so all climate action must be intersectional.
“Cultures who have understood the value of land since the beginning of time have been forced to live in the least valuable and most inaccessible parts of the country, and have their sacred grounds contaminated and eroded,” said Ma'iingan Wolf Garvin, an East High School student and member of the Ho-Chunk and Anishinaabe. “Race determines your exposure to air pollution more than any other factor, including income and education.”
State and local officials joined the student demonstrators and reiterated their commitment to science-based policy and environmental justice.
“You are the reason why climate change is at the front of the political debate,” Rep. Mark Pocan said. “You are ensuring that this issue is finally getting the attention it deserves.”
In Washington D.C., Pocan was one of the first lawmakers to support the Green New Deal initiative. He pledged to keep fighting for renewable energy and investments in a net-zero emissions future at the national level.
“Your generation will be the one to suffer the effects of climate change, and you deserve better,” Pocan said. “The status quo won’t work and we need to take action. Nothing short of the future of the planet is at stake.”