Thousands march at Denver Youth Climate Strike
Protesters call for officials to act now
Around 10:30 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 20, protesters gathered at Denver’s Union Station, and by 11 a.m. an estimated 7,500 people filled the entirety of Union Square, armed with signs demanding “Climate Justice Now!”
The protest was part of a weekly strike that has occurred every Friday since September 2018, when Greta Thunberg first skipped school to sit alone outside the Swedish Parliament in protest of her government’s lack of climate action. During last month’s climate strikes, Thunberg delivered an emotionally charged speech at the UN Climate Action Summit, in which she condemned those in power for their betrayal of younger generations. “How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you are doing enough when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight,” Thunberg said.
Thunberg inspired the Fridays for Future movement in which students around the world will skip school to protest at their local, state, or national capital buildings. Haven Coleman, a middle-schooler, helped Thunberg’s movement gain traction in Denver in January 2019 when she began participating in Fridays for Future. Since then, young activists have shown up every Friday at the capital to ask lawmakers for change.
On Sept. 20 those activists were joined by millions more in protests that took place around the world. In Colorado, strikes were also held in cities such as Boulder, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, and Aspen.
In Denver, the march was organized by a team of youth and adult climate organizations, including 350, the National Indigenous Youth Council, and the Sunrise Movement. These organizations all have national or international leadership, but have local hubs in cities throughout the country. Each hub focuses on local organizing, bringing together people in their community to advocate for the implementation of necessary climate legislation. Though it is a youth climate movement, the activists invite people of any age to support the cause.
The Denver crowd on Sept. 20 marched from Union Station through the 16th Street Mall, disrupting cross traffic for about 45 minutes. A small group of protesters chanting, “Whose streets are these? Our streets!” mindfully blocked northbound traffic on Lincoln street for several minutes until police were able to let cars pass through.
At about 12 p.m. the activists gathered at the steps of the state capital around two traditionally dressed indigenous women burning sage while speakers addressed the impassioned crowd. In accordance with the name of the event, “Youth Climate Strike,” most of the speakers were youth activists. Tomás Lopez, from the Colorado chapter of the International Indigenous Youth Council, MC’ed the event and introduced other speakers.
A common sentiment from the speakers was fear. Many criticized the political negligence that has forced young people to consider the impacts of the climate emergency on their future.
Liam Grove, a co-lead for Earth Guardians Denver Metro and one of the speakers, said, “This isn’t a faraway problem like it used to be. We in the US are one of the top polluters. Here in Colorado, we’re contributing with fracking right outside our neighborhoods. The problem is caused by us, and we’re the ones who can fix it.”
But, in front of thousands of like-minded environmental activists, each speaker gave hope to the crowd that change is coming. Grove said about the activists, “We’re in the right place; we’re in this together.”
Protesters demanded that their governments act in accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement and limit the rise of global temperatures to well below two degrees Celsius. To do this, protesters called for the implementation of the Green New Deal, which would employ strategies used by FDR in his New Deal to transform the economy to 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2030. According to strikewithus.org, the proposed legislation should “transform our economy to 100% clean, renewable energy by 2030 and phase out all fossil fuel extraction through a just and equitable transition, creating millions of good jobs.”
Nick Tuta, who helped organize the march as one of the Boulder Sunrise Movement coordinators, has confidence in the achievability of their demands. “This is a proposal that actually addresses the scope of the crisis. That is the power of the Green New Deal, it answers the problems that we are presented with on such a sweeping scale that it can energize and bring in (new) activists…Under the banner of the Green New Deal we can come together to fight for a livable future.”
The Denver protest drew out various local and national political figures. Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke spoke with TV crews and shook hands with strikers at Union Station the morning after hosting an Aurora town hall focused on gun reform. “It is really inspiring, very encouraging, and is cause for optimism,” said Beto of the climate strikes. “We have our work cut out for us. We cannot warm more than a degree and a half Celsius over pre-industrial revolution levels without taking this train badly off the tracks.”
Additionally, on the morning of Sept. 21, the day after the strike, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Joe Neguse spoke at a climate change event in Boulder organized by local youth climate activists. In a Q&A session, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez highlighted the need for change at a political level, rather than at the individual level. She said, “It’s important for us to be mindful of our consumption, but it’s not an accident that the moment we introduced a Green New Deal, the opposition came with this ‘they’re gonna ground all the airplanes, they’re gonna take away our hamburgers!’”
Ocasio-Cortez added that the opposition wants Americans to believe that the climate crisis “is because you had too much Ben and Jerry’s.” As far as change regular citizens can create, Ocasio-Cortez believes “the most sustainable actions we take are in voting and organizing our community.”
In one of the successes of the protest, senate candidates from Colorado Andrew Romanoff, Diana Bray, Trish Zornio, Lorena Garcia, and Alice Madden all signed a pledge during the rally stating they will not accept campaign contributions over $200 from fossil fuel executives, lobbyists, or Political Action Committees (PACs). Activists at the march were excited to see candidates such as these, who support their interests, rather than the interests of the fossil fuel industry. According to Nick Tuta, “We got to show the youth that they are people who have our backs, if elected, not the fossil fuel industry’s back.”
Tuta said this protest was “the first of many organized, coordinated strikes that disrupt business as usual, and wake up the establishment that has been asleep at the wheel.” He said to people looking to take impactful action on climate change, “The single best thing you can do is find an organization you believe in and join the movement.”