On the afternoon of Friday, Sept. 20, people gathered on the steps of the Idaho State Capitol to protest governmental apathy and inaction toward climate change. At first glance, the group looked similar to any other crowd of protestors, there were some clear differences upon further inspection, however. Before any speakers began, people were asked to participate in a breathing exercise.
“In a time of crisis, it’s really important to make sure that you are staying aware of yourself and mindful in your space,” said 17-year-old Liam Neupert, one of the event’s facilitators.
The wind blew hard as the crowd quietly took in deep breaths, pulling their arms up, then down with each cycle.
Though many different age groups were present to show support, the event’s speakers had one thing in common: they were all under the age of 20.
The Friday protests were a part of a national push ignited by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg for young people to demand immediate legislative action to counter the building effects of climate change.
“It’s really important for the youth to finally have our voice because we are the ones who are being most affected by it,” Neupert said. “As our earth gets warmer, I don’t know what my future will look like.”
Neupert referenced a report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018, which suggested the warming trend will be irreversible as soon as 2030.
In his speech — the last of several young activists — Neupert emphasized that white people are often the least affected by current changes in climate.
“Marginalized people and people of color have always been the ones to see the worst effects of things in history,” Neupert said.
Jenefar Paul, an 18 year-old Boise activist, shared Neupert’s concerns for marginalized people.
“Human-caused climate change is, and will continue to cause complete and irreparable damage to the earth as we know it,” Paul said. “I stand here as a Ugandan woman, whose people living in Acholi land — a region they have cultivated for generations — face the worst of the effects of global warming.”
Paul continued that many of the effects the Acholi people face stem from the history of colonization in the region.
“Global warming is the 100 companies that make up 71% of global emissions,” Paul said.
Paul also noted that the U.S. creates 15% of overall global emissions. Due to this, people like Katie Hayes, a participant in the protest, say people have an obligation to combat and reduce this contribution.
“Greta Thunberg said ‘Protect, restore, and fund,’ so that’s why I’m here today. (We need to) protect what we already have, restore, work on rehabilitation, and then fund, put your money in sustainable places where our money is going to fuel the reversal of climate change,” Hayes said.
Just as Hayes came to the rally to incite change, many people in the eclectic crowd stood alongside her in the hopes that their representatives would hear their call to action.
“We were really unsure of how many people would come, but I think we easily have 1,000 people (here) at least. I was really happy to see not just young folks here, but our elders as well who are here to support us and who are on our side,” said Jyoni Shuler, one of the organizers of the event.
Shuler shared Paul and Neupert’s sentiment that this issue must recognize people of marginalized backgrounds, and said that the organizers were deliberate about finding activists to speak who represented those a variety of identities.
The final action taken by the crowd after all the speakers concluded was to enter the capitol building and fill the central hall. After all had entered, songs were sung including Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem,” and Pete Seeger’s “Which Side Are You On?” As the voices reverberated throughout the halls, activists said they hoped Idaho representatives would hear the demands of the group and understand the relevance of these issues. Near the end, the crowd chanted for the Green New Deal, a bill currently being pushed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others, which is the only legislation that comprehensively addresses the climate catastrophe according to the Sunrise Movement.
Though many speakers expressed frustration toward the inaction or lack of support by legislators, the sheer number of participants showed the importance of this issue to community members. By encouraging young people to take the lead against climate change, the Youth Climate Strike sought to put the power in the hands of those whose future is most at risk, and whose unbridled passion is most needed.