On Friday, September 20th, many Lakeside students forwent school in favor of the climate strike that was filling the streets in cities all over the world. Young protesters of different nationalities, different beliefs, and different races were all united under one single purpose: pressing world leaders to do more about the global warming that looms fatalistically over our generation.
I checked in with Katie W. ’20, who is an active member of Climate Strike WA, the organization that planned the climate strike. Prior to the protest, Katie stated that she at least hoped “there will be more than ten” Lakesiders in attendance. While we may not have an exact number, we can be sure that Katie’s expectations were certainly exceeded when the day came around. In fact, Lakesiders weren’t the only surprising ones. As Katie noted, the overall turnout was delightfully unanticipated. She said, “We expected a few thousand people to come, but we ended up with an estimated total turnout of between fifteen and twenty thousand people!”
Katie, who was first galvanized to join the cause following a climate strike earlier this year, described the atmosphere as “buzzing with excitement and passion”. For her, high points of the protest included Jay Inslee’s presence (“Wow!” said Katie) and “the moment when the march to City Hall joined together with the march of Amazon employees from their workplaces.” Most people who attended the strike echoed Katie’s sentiments. “It was unexpectedly inspiring, given the fundamentally depressing topic,” said Virgil C-L. ’20. “It was the most hope that I’ve felt for this world in a while — maybe ever.”
For a number of students, however, the day also presented a surprisingly challenging question: to strike, or not to strike? What was the right choice, personally and socially? Was it okay to miss a day of school in favor of a protest? Was it acceptable to have one’s record blemished by a string of unexcused absences? In a decision that also acted as a declaration to one’s peers — a public weighing of one important thing over the other — which was the right path to pick?
The reasons to go seem obvious enough. The environment is something that many people feel strongly about. Climate change is a phenomenon that affects everyone, and if left unchecked, it may lead to apocalyptic consequences. Our generation has been told that climate change is now our responsibility — and participating in a climate strike is certainly one way of taking on this responsibility.
On the other hand, Lakesiders had many reasons not to strike as well. From a logistical standpoint, most students had classes, tests, and projects. Additionally, numerous people that I talked to mentioned the price it costs to attend even one day at Lakeside. “I’m losing 200 bucks by not going to school today,” commented Lauren R. ’21. Anjali K. ’21 also noted that, for certain families, it would be harder to adjust schedules to allow for transportation to and from downtown. Furthermore, it might be more difficult for some students to justify — both to themselves and to their families — missing a full day of school when the privilege to attend a school such as Lakeside is so hard-won.
Furthermore, attending the strike could lead to multiple unexcused absences staining a student’s record. As Ms. Wilks clarified in her all-school email, “Should you choose to miss school to attend the strike, it is important to know that this will be considered an ‘unexcused’ absence.” The point of a strike, Ms. Wilks points out, is in deciding that your cause matters more to you than your classes and your attendance record. Katie, when asked for her opinion, replied that she recognized this measure as a valid one. However, she also pointed out that “excusing the absences could have been a meaningful way for the school to convey concrete support for and acknowledgment of the importance of both climate action and the youth voice (that Lakeside generally seems to value).” She further noted that, though Seattle Public Schools did not excuse absences, other schools, like those Tacoma Public Schools, Bellevue School District, and New York City Public Schools all did.
While the climate strike was for many a celebration of the powerful voice of youth, some students also called into question the effectiveness of their peers’ protest. One Lakesider commented, “I don’t think it’s actually helpful. I feel like it doesn’t have an impact.” Others remained skeptical about the long term commitment of some of the strike’s participants. “It’s great that the protest is happening, but I question how many people are actually going to adjust their behavior to fix climate change,” said one student. His classmate agreed, saying, “People who have been doing this for months…they’re activists, and I respect them. But for many others, they just make one witty sign and take a cute photo, and suddenly they ‘did a good thing’ that everyone needs to know about? It feels self-congratulatory and serves no purpose besides establishing moral superiority. How many of them actually follow up? How many actually reduce on gas and energy use, bypass air travel, and reject materialism and fast fashion?” She then brought up the national school walkout which occurred last year following the Parkland shooting. “Who’s actively campaigning for gun control now?” she asked.
When asked for her response to these comments, Katie was quick to acknowledge their validity. “The strike can be even more meaningful if people use it as an opportunity to stay engaged with the topic rather than just a photo-op,” she said. “The climate strike isn’t a moment, it’s a movement.” However, she also noted, “Sometimes participating in a collective action can be the push that someone needs to begin to actively acknowledge and address an issue that may have always lingered in the back of their minds. Especially with the climate strike, I can say from personal experience that having the opportunity t o connect with others can be very empowering and actually helpful in learning what other actions I could do to further my impact.”
To all students — to those who attended the strike and to those who did not — Katie had one last message: “I want students to remember that they have an exercisable voice and encourage them to advocate for themselves when they want to enact change…As for climate-related specifics, I hope that even those who could not attend are encouraged by the strike to start educating themselves on environmental policies so that they can vote more effectively when the time comes!