Students strike to amplify climate issues

Sep 24, 2019

A student striker listens to Sophie Morin speak from the gazebo at WKFL Park.
Credit KBBI

Friday September 20th at 2:50 p.m.: It was Sophie Morin’s voice booming over the high school intercom. Morin is a member of the Homer Youth for Environmental Action, one of the organizers of the student walkout.

She said,  “The climate strike starts now at WKFL park. There are signs out front. Grab one as you go.”

And, students walked out to make their voices heard.

Sophie’s sister Sabina Morin was one of the students at the rally.
“We're here to raise awareness for climate change and to help people understand that this is a big deal and it needs to be addressed,” she said.

As students started to flock up at the park, two pick-up trucks flying Trump flags drove past. Charles Tappin talked about what it meant to walk out of school today.

“Just the people that ride by saying climate change isn't real? That's kind of what I'm going up against,” said Tappin.

Sophie Morin didn't just call the strike, she spoke from the gazebo in the park.

“To take action on a global level, you must first take action in your community. Call your legislators in Juneau and our senators in Washington. Now is the time to put pressure on our elected officials to set aside their differences and wake the hell up,” Morin said in her speech.
"We are living in a time of extreme political discourse but this crisis is not a partisan weapon. It's a threat to dignified human life.”

 At that moment, District 31 representative Sarah Vance was in the high school library. Two days before the strike, Vance shared an unsigned statement on her social media. The statement, on Alaska State Legislature letterhead, refers to Vance in the third person and invites students to join her in the library during the climate strike.

“I intend to utilize this time,” Vance is quoted in the statement as saying.
"I intend to utilize this time to listen to students concerns and emphasize that meaningful conversation precedes meaningful change.”

In the library, Vance focused on enforcing existing systems rather than change of any kind with regard to fossil fuels .
“Do I think that we at some point could rely less on it? Yes.
Should we? Sure.
Are we going to tomorrow? No. The thing that helps make the world machine go around happens to be oil right now,” said Vance.

Representative Vance actually utilized both fifth and sixth periods. Welding teacher Walter Love brought some of his class to meet with Vance. Love introduced topics of conversation which led Vance to remind students that their dividend checks rely on oil revenue and that decreased oil drilling will mean fewer jobs on the North Slope.

Back in the park, Alana Houlihan said her fifth period class met with Vance.
“We voted on it, on if we wanted to go and she, like, refused to answer the questions about climate change,” said Houlihan.

Sophie Morin spoke to students from the gazebo,
“The law says that we must attend school, but as our world is being ripped apart at the seams. The goal of going to school becomes pointless. Why devote our young lives to becoming educated when our governments are not listening to the educated,” said Morin.

Morin doesn't think she'll experience any negative repercussions from participating in the walk out. But Alana Houlihan was barred from running in her cross-country meet on Saturday because she skipped a class.

“I can't go to practice today because I missed a class, which is sixth period, and you can't go to the race if you miss practice.  They announced that on the intercom that, if we go, we are subjecting ourselves to detention,” said Houlihan.

Homer High School Athletic Director Chris Perk declined to be interviewed on the microphone but did say that it is district policy to bar athletes from play if they miss practice.

 Representative Vance stayed in the library until the end of the school day. However, the focus on Friday was on students in the park. Here are a few of their voices:

“My name is Brianna Simpson. I came back from Anchorage recently and I saw what the fires have done and it was scary. I didn't want that to happen to, like, Homer.”

“I am Victoria Taylor. I'm a big believer in climate change, and I'd rather be here fighting for our future instead of going to school to learn for a future that we may not have.”

“I’m Emma Sulczynski…I went to the Hilcorp meeting last month. The information I put in my speech was from a scientist that Hilcorp brought in. He told us a lot about the damage it (seismic testing) would do to marine life, and the fish in the area.”

“My name is Lucinda Marriott. I was going to go to biology but I came here instead. I want to make a difference and so do all these other people joining us.”