Baltimore youth strike for climate action—because it seems like no one else will

Screencap courtesy Jaisal Noor

Hundreds of Baltimore city students were part of one of the thousands of Climate Strike actions around the world on Friday demanding world leaders treat the climate crisis with the urgency it deserves. Kids in Baltimore skipped class and asked adults to join them too, marching on the sidewalks of St. Paul Street led by a large group from Baltimore City College all chanting “Climate change is not a lie, do not let our planet die.” Hundreds of Baltimore School for the Arts students met up with others near Center Street and convened downtown at the Inner Harbor.

“We’re here today to basically let the people know in charge—our government—to know that children are worried about their environment,” said Kyche Curtis, a City College student and president and treasurer of Associated Student Congress of Baltimore City and an organizer of the Youth Climate Strike. “Whether or not you want to acknowledge [the climate crisis], we want you to know that we do and that we’re here to fight and we’re here to make a change.”

“This is important for me today because our politicians aren’t taking this as seriously as they should be. If this was a thing that everybody was taking seriously, this wouldn’t be happening—this is not a fight that students should be fighting. I’m sad to be here, I’m sad that I have to be here,” said county schools student Omer Reshid.

It would seem as though calling attention to the climate crisis is in the hands of the city’s youth. On most other days, the Inner Harbor is where black and brown teens are routinely criminalized and this week, as news of the massive Climate Strike grew, many local politicians spent time responding to the manufactured “squeegee kid” problem around downtown. Mayor Jack Young and Tisha Edwards, Head of Office of Children and Family Success offered up a million dollar “Squeegee Alternative Plan.” And earlier this month, Maryland Democratic National Convention delegates almost entirely voted against a climate change debate (the sole vote for the debate was Larry Cohen).

“That’s an outrage. Here, Baltimore City is full of black and brown people. We are the majority here. Whether we’re a minority anywhere else, we own the city, we are the city, we make this city who it is today,” Curtis said of the failed vote. “And to say that it shouldn’t even be a debate makes it feels as though we shouldn’t be debated, we shouldn’t matter. Whether we’re old, whether we’re young, we don’t have a purpose here and it hurts in that they should also realize that it’s an issue.”

State Senator and MD Democratic Party vice chairman Cory McCray told Maryland Matters that while, “it’s not that climate change isn’t important,” he said he could not, “take the issues that are very prominent in communities [he] represent[s,]” such as police brutality, “and decrease their value.” Earlier this month, an investigation by National Public Radio and the University of Maryland’s Howard Center for Investigative Journalism revealed that the hottest areas of Baltimore are also the poorest—which due to decades of segregation also means majority black—and this will only increase due to global warming.

Joshua Lynn, a Baltimore City College student, one of the main organizers of the City College’s walkout and Student Commissioner for the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners stressed the presence of black and brown students at yesterday’s march precisely because climate change is such an important issue.

“This affects every single person in the world, especially brown and black children because we live in these inner cities where industries are always constantly and taking over,” Lynn said. “We believe that this affects us more, that’s why we’re here today, supporting and we’re not only seeing caucasian students here because we believe that we will also make a change.”

Children as young as seven were seen in the Inner Harbor, holding signs that read, “Climate Change Now, Homework Later” and “There Is No Planet B.”

Climate Strike organizers said there would be over 5,000 actions in 157 countries, kicking off an entire week of youth-led climate action. In total, aroud four million people worldwide marched. To show support, New York City and Boston school districts planned to excuse all absences for participants and Amnesty International backed the strike, and urged schools nationwide to not discipline students who walk out of classes. Baltimore City Schools were encouraging though their response was more hedged. “Our students have important things to say about the impact of climte change, and City Schools encourages thm to make themselves heard about an issues that affects them. Our principals, particularly at middle and high schools, are making spaces and time available in their buildings for students to discuss the issue,” a written statement read in part.

The Climate Strike comes months after 1.4 million students took part in a worldwide climate walkout in March and Friday’s action fell on the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, which killed thousands. It also comes just days before the major United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York.

Later on, students marched to City Hall where City Council President Brandon Scott addressed the Climate Strikers.

“We have to do everything to make sure there is a world for you in the future. So anybody, keep yelling, keep marching, keep screaming,” Scott said. “We have to make the world a better a place for you right now, we have to keep our environment in our minds in every single thing that you do, so know that we hear you, come to City Hall as often as you want, scream as often as you want, send emails as often as you want.”

State Delegate Brooke Lierman also spoke to the students: “I’ve had the honor for a few years of working with students in Baltimore to ban styrofoam. Thank you to students who are making this city stay styrofoam-free. That is one of the many plastics we have to get rid of that are polluting our waters and the plastic manufacturers, the Exxons, who are polluting our world,” Lierman said. “So thank you to students who are leading the charge and saying, ‘Now is the time for action.’”

Also in front of City Hall was Greg Wilson of Sunrise Movement Baltimore who explained that the action on Friday wasn’t focused on climate crisis deniers so much as politicians within the Democratic Party who acknowledge the crisis and have still done little to address it: “We’re not out here to talk to climate deniers, we’re not out here to talk to Donald Trump, that’s a separate conversation and those people need to come around to the facts, come around to the science and come around to the math and engineering truths of climate change but we’re here to talk about the people who know climate change is a problem, believe in it and are being absolutely feckless, cowardly, weak and pathetic in their solutions to it so far,” Wilson said. “We’ve had presidential candidates come out with some pretty comprehensive climate change plans that we’re excited about but we also have hundreds of people in Congress who claim to be Democrats, who claim to be the people who are supposed to be our champions who haven’t done anything so far.”

Wilson mentioned plans to reopen the Charles P. Crane Generating Station in Middle River, a coal power plant which closed in June of 2018.

“Right here in Baltimore, we’re looking at opening up or rather, reopening a coal power plant near Middle River in Baltimore County that had been closed down and they’re looking at opening that back up and starting more coal and electricity production,” Wilson said. “That’s not the kind of leadership that a Democratic Baltimore City and a Democratic Baltimore County Commissioner’s Board should be showing. So that’s who we’re talking to. We’re talking to the people who give lip service to climate change but have taken no action or weak action.”

Additional reporting by Dharna Noor and Brandon Soderberg.