ARHS students join international strike against climate change inaction

Close to 200 people convened on the Amherst Town Common

By Hayley Johnson, Editor in Chief

Amherst Regional High School students walked out of class on Friday afternoon and walked to the Town Common as part of a worldwide protest against for climate change action. Joined by parents, teachers, middle schoolers and community members, the protest was attended by close 200 people.

Co-organizers and high school juniors Xiaoping Yu, Naomi Johnson and Miya Hong were inspired by the global “#FridaysForFuture” movement, started by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her work organizing climate strikes. Walkouts took place in over 100 countries on Friday.

Students from ARHS and Amherst-Pelham Regional Middle School, as well as parents and other community members had the opportunity to speak out against climate change at the walkout. Many people brought signs which read statements like “Make Earth Kool Again,” “Your mistakes are my future,” “Capitalism is destroying the biosphere” and “Black Lives Matter/Environmental Justice Now.”

“Through this movement we are finally providing a voice for our generation, and we are not alone,” Johnson said to a crowd of cheering people on the Common. “We are joined by thousands and thousands of students and thousands of schools and hundreds of countries.”

“It is our responsibility to save this planet, and that’s why this walkout is more than just a message — it is a call to action,” Johnson said.

Several speakers voiced support for the current Green New Deal resolution in the United States Congress, which is a set of proposed economic stimulus plans to address climate change issues in the U.S.

“We have the chance to create thousands of green jobs, address environmental injustice and reduce inequality,” said Leif Maynard, a senior at ARHS. “The Green New Deal is a non-binding resolution meant to channel the will and aspirations for real climate action. [To] those who are skeptical of the policy: you do not need to back the implementation of every aspect of the resolution to support it.”

“Why should we not join the mobilization for a habitable Earth, a democratized economy and the security of future generations?” Maynard asked the crowd.

Max Page, vice president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association and father of one of the walkout participants, expressed his support for the students and their mission.

“Last Saturday at our board meeting, we unanimously endorsed your climate walkout today,” Page said. “We need a Green New Deal. It’s gonna happen because of all of you. Your teachers, your educators, we stand behind you. Where you go, we will follow and support you.”

In the Association’s official endorsement, published on March 12, President Merrie Najimy stated that one reason they support the walkout is because “students are taking what they have learned about science and civics and putting their education into action.”

Shaina Rogstad, a Ph.D. candidate in the department of geosciences at the University of Massachusetts attended the walkout to show her support for the students.

“I think that this movement is extremely important to demanding climate action because it’s led by the youth and it’s their futures that are at risk,” Rogstad said.

“We are fighting for more than just ourselves, we are fighting for our children, our grandchildren and everybody, everybody who’s coming after us,” Johnson said. “We have to support all the other schools and individuals who are striking every month, or even every week for a cleaner planet.”

The organizers started planning their school’s walkout about two weeks ago, according to Yu. They began by contacting legislators, the media, students and the community — mostly by way of social media.

The organizers had created a Facebook event page and a handout that included ways people could support climate action.

“We’re very happy to see [the turnout]. We spread the word mostly through social media so we actually had no idea how many people were coming,” Yu said. “This is a pretty good number and it makes me believe that we actually have a chance against climate change.”

Hayley Johnson can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @hayleyk_johnson. Photos by Michael Connors, who can be reached at [email protected]