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ABQ students to strike for climate action

Albuquerque high school and college students walked out in protest as part of a national school strike in May. Local students will strike Friday to demand action on climate change. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Most of them can’t vote yet. Some don’t even have driver’s licenses. But Friday, hundreds of Albuquerque high school students are expected to walk out of school to demand action on global climate change.

The students, led by Fight for Our Lives and the New Mexico Youth Climate Strike, will leave school at noon to rally in Robinson Park.

“We don’t have all the solutions to this problem, but we’re also not responsible,” said Jonathan Juarez-Alonzo, a 17-year-old senior at the Native American Community Academy and president of Fight for Our Lives. “We haven’t contributed to the climate crisis yet, but we’ll be the ones to live with it. We need to put this in-person pressure on the people who do have the power to make a change.”

Organizers expect nearly 2,000 students and adults to join the Downtown rally, where Mayor Tim Keller and students will address the crowd. The group will then march from the park at Eighth and Central to the offices of Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall to demand the Democrats sign on to the Green New Deal, a sweeping plan to combat climate change.

The students have other demands: that Albuquerque declare a climate emergency; that the state place a four-year moratorium on new fracking; that the state set a goal of 100% renewable energy by 2030 (15 years sooner than the current goal); that the Legislature pass community solar legislation; and that the state establish a “just transition fund,” using oil and gas revenue to make an economic diversity plan.

Back at the park, there will be a climate fair from 12:30 to 5 p.m., with a march for young children at 2 p.m.

“Striking is a good way to get politicians’ attention, because most of the kids doing this can’t vote yet,” said Lilith Clark, a 15-year-old sophomore at Albuquerque High and organizer with the state climate strike. “This is the easiest way for us to say, ‘Here’s what we think, and you should do something about it.'”

After public testimony from dozens of people Wednesday – from grade schoolers to those who identified themselves as grandparents – the Albuquerque City Council approved a “declaration of a climate emergency” and the creation of a climate action plan.

Aubrey Amon, 15, told the council that climate change threatens everything she loves about the city, from the Rio Grande to the cuisine, calling it the biggest challenge the city, state, country and human race currently face.

“I love New Mexican foods, but warming temperatures and droughts caused by climate are harming our agriculture and giving us less crops to cook with,” she said, imploring the council to pass the resolution “before climate change leaves us all with little left to love.”

The city generated a climate action plan in 2009, and Councilors Brad Winter and Ken Sanchez noted the progress the city has made toward sustainability.

But Councilor Isaac Benton, who co-sponsored the new resolution with Pat Davis and Diane Gibson, said the original plan had been used as a reference but urged a new city commitment “to do what’s right for future generations.”

Friday’s walkout is part of a worldwide youth movement inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who began skipping school last year to protest in front of her country’s Parliament about legislative inaction on climate change. Local students and climate activist group 350 New Mexico are hosting other events in Albuquerque as part of a global week leading up to the U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York City on Monday.

“When people tell me I’m too young to be doing this, that I don’t know enough, it’s almost like saying my future doesn’t matter as much as theirs,” said Olivia Gonzales, a 15-year-old sophomore at the Public Academy for Performing Arts and policy coordinator with Fight for Our Lives. “Just because I’m a kid doesn’t mean I don’t have a say in my future.”

Politicians should fight the climate crisis with the same urgency as wars, said Mariluz Lebkuechner, a 16-year-old senior at the Public Academy for Performing Arts and climate strike organizer.

Monica Armenta, Albuquerque Public Schools spokeswoman, told the Journal on Tuesday that the walkout will be treated like past demonstrations. Students will not be prevented from leaving, but each student who walks out will receive an unexcused absence, she said.

Armenta added that principals have been told to tell students that they do not have permission to leave campus and that if students choose to participate in a walkout, the district can’t ensure their safety once they leave school.

Albuquerque’s Transit Department provided 2,000 free bus passes to 350 New Mexico for the climate action events, including for students to attend Friday’s strike.

Visit climatestrikeabq.com for details on the student strike and other climate action events in Albuquerque.

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