Tomorrow, thousands of students all over the world are skipping classes and taking to the streets to demand that legislators take action against climate change. Our generation is already feeling the effects of climate change in the form of floods, fires, drought, and significant losses in agriculture. No longer can we wait or kick the can another generation down the road. We need action now.
I was twelve years old when I first confronted a local government official about climate change. Five years ago, Williams Gas Company appeared at our front door and said they were building the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline through our backyard.
My community organized immediately, rising up against this pipeline that threatened to fracture not only our land, but our relationships as well. Over a hundred people crowded the township supervisors’ meeting to show support for an ordinance banning fossil fuel infrastructure in Martic, my township. I spent days walking all over my neighborhood knocking door after door explaining the ordinance to the adults who answered. Yet, in the end, Williams Partners coaxed our supervisors away from our pleas, dangling hefty grants over their heads and they were gone like children chasing an ice cream truck.
By this time, the community had formed an official organization that included a welcome relief from partisan politics, as the pipeline affected people of all political and social beliefs. Leaders at the local level failed us, so the community as an organization rose to the state level. At the time, it was Republican representative Joe Pitts. We had fully expected to be met with a positive response and a willingness to talk. Instead, his top representative sat in our living room, yelled at us for being delusional hippies, and dismissed our concern entirely. In fact, he got up and stormed out of the meeting early, slamming the door behind him. Following this event, Joe Pitts himself sent an email to our group stating that he would “do everything in my power to get the pipeline installed ASAP.”
Crushed, desperate, we went over his head, contacting the Federal agency responsible for regulating pipelines, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). My mom spent hours on the phone with FERC representatives, my father was arrested shutting down a piece of drilling equipment, and our organization had begun hosting direct action training. The plot thickened.
At first I stood there watching and learning, and then one day, I realized that I had the right to protest as well. After sitting in on multiple organizing meetings every week, I had a sound understanding of how community organizing works and was excited by the thought of taking action myself. When construction began on the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, I took the action I deemed necessary; I put myself between the land and those who sought to destroy it, resulting in my first arrest at age 16. It became so evident that serious change had to happen when children were forced to physically place themselves in harms way to prevent the destruction of our planet.
This is why, on Friday, March 15, I and other students in Lancaster county will be skipping school to force attention to the topic of climate change. Too long I have politely approached politicians and community leaders with concerns about climate change and had them dismissed, as though my future doesn’t depend on remedial legislative action. Now, for the sake of our health, safety, and planet as a whole, the youth of this nation are forcing a reaction that appropriately addresses the serious threat that climate change presents. If the adults in power can’t do their job themselves, then the young people of the nation will take the wheel and steer away from the cliff we are currently barreling toward.