Springfield-area youth left the classroom Friday morning to rally around climate change. They joined an international event known as the Global Climate Strike.
Ko’u Hopkins, a 14-year-old student at Pleasant Plains High School, wore her Girl Scout uniform to the strike. She said she joined the more than three dozen rally-goers at the University of Illinois Springfield campus to call for action.
“We came out here today because climate change is very important to us, because what our leaders leave behind is what we are going to inherit," she said. "And when I pass it on to my children, I want them to have a clean and healthy environment.”
Hopkins said youth like her want to put pressure on state leaders to pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act. That measure would move Illinois to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.
Brandi Spann, a 16-year-old junior from Pleasant Plains High School also joined Hopkins. She said she worries about what the air quality would do to people like her sister who have asthma.
"The air getting worse than it already is doesn't sound good," she said.
Rally organizer Francesca Butler, a philosophy and environmental studies student at UIS, said youth have the power to influence policy. She said while they don't have voting power, their voices and actions can lead to change -- even if that means missing class for the day.
"I want to emphasize it's not a day off for students, it’s a day on for students. We are working really, really hard to make sure that this legislation gets passed," Butler said. "I can go to science class tomorrow, but climate action needs to happen today."
Other youth at the rally, like 12-year-old Lincoln Magnet Middle School student Mia Hinkle, said she believes in her power to get more kids her age involved in the climate change discussion. Hinkle said her parents supported her decision to miss class because they know climate change is something she is passionate about.
“So as we get older, we can inspire younger and older—so our kids, their kids, other kids can have a life and live their life to the fullest without having to worry about that (climate change).”
Over 150 countries joined the global strike. Demonstrations were planned for cities across the state, including Chicago, Decatur, Champaign-Urbana and Peoria.
Youth across Illinois and the country are skipping classes Friday morning. They are demanding that lawmakers focus on climate change policy.
NPR Illinois spoke with Francesca Butler, a philosophy and environmental studies student at UIS, who helped organize a Global Climate Strike rally on campus with Springfield-area high school and middle school students. The rally is scheduled to take place Friday morning at 10.
Butler said while the focus is a global and nationwide discussion on climate change that includes the Green New Deal, youth in Illinois are also sending Gov. J.B. Pritzker a message.
"That message is that we want to pass the Clean (Energy) Jobs Act. We need clean energy in Illinois and that just isn't a reality that's happened for us yet. You know, we've taken steps and made strides, but now's that time,” Butler said.
Daisy Contreras: About 150 other countries will be joining along in similar events like the one here in Springfield. And these rallies are happening several days before the United Nations is scheduled to meet for the Climate Action Summit. How did the Global Climate Strike come together?
Francesca Butler: The idea of the Climate Strike started with the idea of a young girl— now woman— named Greta Thunberg who is from Sweden. She was constantly being told, ‘There are all these issues with the climate and this is a real problem. This is the science behind it.’
And yet, there's still this debate going on, and that was really frustrating to her. Why are we having this debate when we know what the facts are, when we know that this is a real problem? And why are we sitting here in classrooms instead of fighting for our lives? So she thought, what can I do as a student since these adults with real power aren't doing anything? One thing that we know we can do is we can strike. Unions have organized for a very long time and people have realized their strength in numbers. So, she thought, why not?
DC: What was the process like for you in organizing this rally here in Springfield, which will take place Friday morning at the University of Illinois at Springfield campus? You're getting high school and middle school students involved. What was it like asking students to take a day off from classes?
FB: I don't like to think of it as a day off, it's a day ‘on’. We're taking the day on to strike up for something that we really believe in. Kind of how it all starts with organizing is that you have these big international, national movements that look for grassroot groups that are really inspired to take action.
It has honestly been such a great experience for me connecting with these different students. The Sierra Club has helped me out a lot in connecting me with other students around who are interested in this and parents who have students that are interested. So, it's really been kind of this community mobilization to get kids here. And, again, I want to emphasize it's not a day off for students, it’s a day on for students. We are working really, really hard to make sure that this legislation gets passed. I can go to science class tomorrow, but climate action needs to happen today.