Young activists confront status quo in urging action on climate change

Middle-school students were excused from class on Friday to attend the Families Strike for Our Future rally, the third in a string of youth-led rallies combating climate change deniers. (Renata Birkenbuel/Missoula Current)

About 250 climate activists – about two-thirds of them middle school students and younger – raised their voices to the prevailing winds at the Families Strike for Our Future rally on the southeast corner of the Missoula Courthouse lawn on Friday afternoon.

It was the third local rally of the day in which youth took to the streets to rally on behalf of climate change.

Repeatedly, middle-schoolers called out their elders for allowing the powers-that-be to ignore the dangers of climate change and set their futures on uncertain outcomes.

“We should all be panicked and angry at the lack of action,” Missoula International School 8th grader Claire Kinderwater told the crowd. She and about 60 of her schoolmates led the rally with prepared statements and personal stories to incite activism.

Kinderwater told her family story of visiting a Canadian river every year as tradition.

“We go in July, when droughts are beginning, and the river is often quite shallow,” she said. “This year, in late August, it dried up. They had to pump in water to keep the spawning salmon alive. If the droughts keep getting more extreme, we may miss this activity in coming years.”

It was a wake up call for her.

“Our decisions now, whether we choose to protect our climate or not, will have an impact on everyone,” she added to rousing cheers.

Other 8th graders, like Grace Wandler, Ellis Walker-Keleher and Liam Richardson also led the charge. Their parents gave them permission and teachers excused them to participate.

“To be quite honest,” said Walker, “We should be in school. But because of the inaction of our nation, we have to be here to fight for our future instead.”

Richardson, a life-long Missoula resident, said he appreciates local access to the outdoors.

“But our outdoors are at risk,” said Richardson. “Forest fires devastate communities, avalanches and extreme storms become more frequent, shorter summers and longer winters, hotter days and colder nights are all becoming the norm.

“We are at one of the hot spots of climate change and if we don’t change, our beloved state will be forever altered.”

Walker-Keleher said, “We cannot wait for another Katrina or Dorian to be the catalyst that will make our politicians or others make the change.

They told observers they need to be the catalysts for change.

Winona Bateman, adult volunteer organizer, moderator and MIS parent, repeatedly praised the assembled, informed students, calling them “brave, courageous kids.” Some adults and kids sang songs of hope.

Earlier in the week, the MIS students kicked into high gear with a climate story workshop, which prepped them for the rally.

While high school and college students took to downtown streets earlier in the day to call out the adults and climate deniers, the younger kids stepped up with the same passion.

“We created space for younger voices,” said Bateman. “They are speaking truth to power.”

The youngest speakers at the Families Strike for Our Future rally at the Missoula County Courthouse lawn were Emerson Larsen, 4, left, and Elon Merrill, 4. Watching is rally organizer Winona Bateman holding another child. (Renata Birkenbuel/Missoula Current()

Following Swedish peer Greta Thunberg’s global lead in climate change activism, Missoulians were among millions of young people in 139 countries voicing fears about their futures and chiding elders’ lack of action in combating scientifically-proven climate change.

One Missoula student who attended the earlier climate change rally at Northwestern Energy took the microphone and said, “We just want to bring awareness” to the issue. “We wanted to go inside, but they wouldn’t let us.”

In keeping with Thunberg’s “Our House is On Fire” motto that has taken hold the world over, several local students reminded attendees of the urgency to do something.

“Our planet is dying and officers in government aren’t doing anything to save our future,” said one girl to rowdy cheers. “Our world is burning. That’s why we’re doing this: to put the water on the fire.”

After a world-wide moment of silence at the rally, volunteer Nathan Kolstad read a pledge Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins made earlier in the day at a Helena rally: he refuses to accept donations from fossil fuel companies and lobbyist in his bid to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Steve Daines.