“Act Now or Swim Later” and “Stand UP for what you stand ON” are only two of the many phrases painted onto posters carried by Gonzaga’s environmental advocates as they marched together to Riverfront Park this afternoon. These strikers banded together to participate in the youth-led Global Climate Strike, a world-wide strike ignited by young people who were addressing the urgency of climate change.
About 100 GU students and faculty gathered outside of the Hemmingson Center and were led by Fossil Free Gonzaga (FFG), a student-led fossil fuel divestment campaign who galvanized the youth movement, to the strike. The students received a warm and loud welcome from Maggie Gates, a GU alumni and co-founder of the environmentalist organization Sunrise Movement of Eastern Washington, who was rallying up the crowd of 400 people.
“I’m so excited. These are our future voters, and that gives me hope,” said Dawn Taylor-Reinhardt, a Spokane local who was at the strike.
Although the streets did not close for this march, the protesters walked in a square from the Rotary Fountain to Main Ave. and ended at the Spokane Tribal Gathering Place next to City Hall. It was there where high school and college students and indigenous groups gave speeches, statements, and poems to the crowd.
Even the governor of Washington, Jay Inslee, made his way to Spokane to address the activists. At the end of his statement, Inslee awarded Hope Henning, a junior at North Central High School, the “Most Inspirational Washingtonian of the Day,” for her inspiring and unquenchable activism.
Henning developed her passion from her father, Dr. Brian Henning, who is an environmental ethics professor at GU, but ever since has paved her own way in the movement. She has spent her time in high school rebutting teachers and adults who shut down her environmentalist voice, and only a few months ago was she invited by Sunrise Eastern Washington, a group of young people fighting against climate change, to be the co-face alongside Maggie Gates of the Global Climate Strike in Spokane.
When asked about the support she found during this event, Henning said, “350 Spokane was really instrumental in this. [Their network] has been so helpful to us because it got the word out, and they got the word out to their communities. So, it ended up reaching a bunch of different teenagers who thought, ‘I want to speak up too!’”
350 Spokane is a 2-year-old organization that works toward effective grassroots movement for bold climate action in the greater Spokane area. The organization has created a network at GU by hiring on interns Charissa Boniface and Carly Meyers, who are both seniors at GU, and by working with Fossil Free Gonzaga during this high-energy season of climate change advocacy.
“[The strike] was awesome, so many people came out from Gonzaga, which has a huge support network. So many organizations came out and helped, and teachers got the word out, too,” Boniface said.
“It’s a statement, it’s a push for action. It’s a call that everybody should be concerned about, especially young people, but one that everybody has a stake in,” said Will Holland, a senior at GU and the president of Fossil Free Gonzaga.
Holland gave a speech after the march and was applauded by the fired-up crowd.
Trenton Miller, a board member of 350 Spokane, shared in an email the important of young people's voices: "Fights for civil rights and protests against the Vietnam War were led by high school and college students. This will undoubtedly be another case of that phenomena."
350 Spokane plans to address City Council on Monday Sept. 23, and will play a role in the upcoming city election.
Fossil Free Gonzaga was excited to be part of a great cause like the strike and are especially grateful for the immediate attention it has brought them.
“We’re trying to raise awareness, and that’s what has been huge about this climate strike. People have been hearing our name and asking, ‘what is Fossil Free Gonzaga?’” said Marisa Montesi, a member of FFG and a junior at GU.
When asked about skipping classes to participate in the strike, Montesi said, “Why would you miss out on an opportunity to write your history? It’s about community, it’s about coming together and doing this for each other.”
Ellen Bradley, a senior member of Fossil Free Gonzaga, didn’t even let her broken foot deter her from speaking out with young people around the world.
“Especially in a place like Spokane, where you’re not going to have a movement as big as in Seattle, I felt like it was important for me to come even though I had to wheel myself here on my scooter, in pain,” Bradley said. “I had to put my foot where my mouth is and show up for how important this cause is.”
Bridget Wyant, the GU Ski and Snowboard Club president, came with winter shredders to also lead the GU community to the strike.
“We have a special connection with snow and nature, so to see it deteriorate over time is really sad,” said Wyant. “So, with the passion we have for skiing we can use that in a proactive way to protect our winters and do service by showing up and caring to protect our environment.”
GU clubs had a huge turnout at the strike, with at least five clubs in attendance.
“It was eye-opening to see the amount of people who support the start of these environmental clubs," Wyant said. "So many people from so many platforms know this crisis and want to make a better future for generations to come. I think Gonzaga is a real special place that allows for everyone to voice from their own platform and background.”