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Young people and their allies to participate in climate strike

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
Zaynab Elkolaly, a college freshman, and Elijah Hatcher-Kay, a high school freshman are two of the organizers of a Climate Strike to be held in Ann Arbor. It's one of 500 planned in the U.S.

On Friday, many students and young people will walk out of school or work for what could be the planet’s largest strike so far to bring attention to climate change. Hundreds of climate strike rallies are planned in the U.S. alone. 

This is not the first climate strike. It’s not going to be the last. But, organizers believe it will be the largest so far. The Ann Arbor area strikers will gather at Ingalls Mall at the University of Michigan.

It’s there, where I talked with two organizers: Elijah Hatcher-Kay, a high school freshman, and Zaynab Elkolaly, a college freshman. They’re expecting thousands of stikers to protest ongoing pollution causing climate change. Hatcher-Kay says things have to change now.

Business as usual: burning fossil fuels and polluting our atmosphere is what has what has desecrated our climate and what is causing climate change. So that's why we're doing this as a strike where we're disrupting business as usual, walking out of school and work, because that's the only way to get people to notice that we are in the midst of a crisis and we have to do something serious about it now,” he said.

But many corporations, conservative groups, and politicians deny that climate disruption is caused by humans. President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate treaty. His cabinet has restricted government scientists from talking about climate change. And, his administration reversed tougher regulations on coal-burning power plants.

The president tweeted a quote which said “the whole climate crisis is not only Fake News, it’s Fake Science.” 

Zaynab Elkolaly says despite what’s happened, she thinks these climate strikes are reminding corporations and the government that young people are not going away.

“I think we've already affected the Trump administration. In fact, I don't think the issue is that they're not aware of this being an issue but they are too influenced by the money that they are making from perpetuating these behaviors that contribute to climate change. They are motivated by the profits, but they know very well the end effects of what they are doing,” Elkolaly said.

Previous climate strikes have mostly been organized and attended by young people and students. This time is different. Environmental organizations, unions, and social justice activists are supporting the action led by the young people. And businesses big and small are being encouraged to close shop during the strike.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Comet Coffee is one of several businesses in Ann Arbor that plans to close during the Climate Strike on Friday.

Jim Saborio runs Comet Coffee in downtown Ann Arbor.

“Well, we're closing for a couple hours to give our staff and ourselves a chance to attend the climate strike. But, we're also using it as a means to get people aware about the climate strike itself,” he said.

He plans to put up signs to notify his customers why the shop will be closed.

But, shutting the doors means losing money. He was lobbied to close for the strike by someone with real influence: his high school-aged daughter.

She's 15 years old. And she's really excited about it. And she said to me that it was really about just kind of standing aside, letting the young people speak for themselves and just showing support,” he explained.

The 2018 elections saw some progressives elected and they’ve been pushing a proposal called the Green New Deal to battle climate change and other social ills. Elijah Hatcher-Kay says it’s a beginning.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
The University of Michigan Burton Memorial Tower is adjacent to Ingalls Mall.

Hopefully this strike will serve to expand the ranks of the people in Washington who notice us beyond those who already went there with the intent of solving climate change to it to others who may not recognize the need yet, but hopefully will be stirred to action by this strike,” he said.

Hatcher-Kay and Zaynab Elkolaly are hoping for a climate strike turnout much larger than the three thousand who came out for the last one at the University of Michigan. But they note the larger picture is there are a lot more strikes this time.

This is happening across the world. We expect hundreds of thousands of students to be striking along with staff and employees from schools. So, this isn't just a young people thing. This is an everyone thing and it's going to make a mark on the world. We're going to make history,” Elkolaly said.

The climate strike comes three days before the U.N. Climate Summit in New York. Activists in that city plan to be hold strikes during the entire summit.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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