Students across the globe marched out of class this week to protest climate change, reigniting the debate this community has had for years about the importance of youth activism.
Students from all walks of life marched out of class on Friday, March 15, including students in Forest Grove High School and Pacific University. They were part of a global walkout protesting the lack of action by governments to address climate change. They demanded something — anything — be done to curb the problem.
This newspaper has run letters to the editor for years from concerned residents plying for or against the existence of climate change. (To be clear, there is no debate among scientists. It's happening.)
The messages we received from readers on Friday weren't about the existence of warming ocean waters, though, they were about whether young people in Washington County should be allowed to voice their concerns at all.
As students across the globe walked out of class, we heard responses from parents and community members, many of them negative. "Stay in class," one wrote on our Facebook page. "Sounds like a great excuse to skip school," echoed another.
Others didn't have a problem with the message, but with the timing.
"Activism can occur on Saturdays," wrote one online reader.
Exasperated parents have made similar comments during previous walkouts, uttering the same concerns each time students take to the streets to protest the failings of our government.
Their arguments stem from the belief that these children are either using political walkouts as an opportunity to cut class, or that they don't understand the complexities of "grown up issues" to be involved in the conversation.
Too often, young people are excluded from our political process. They can't vote, and as such have no voice or say in what we do.
But children, as we so often hear, are our future. They will have to live in the world we leave for them. It is them, not us, who will have to deal with the consequences of not addressing climate change head on when we had the chance.
School districts have discouraged students from participating in walkouts, a subject this newspaper has editorialized about before, but as the districts have said repeatedly, students have the right to express themselves under the First Amendment.
Protests are contentious, by design. They are meant to put a stress on the fabric of society. Shutting down city streets or watching children stand and leave class is disruptive. It's supposed to be. If you haven't listened before, perhaps you'll listen now?
Protests have been a part of American democracy since the Boston Tea Party. As protestor Debby Garman told our reporters at a recent demonstration in downtown Hillsboro, it's about giving a voice to the voiceless.
"What do we have as citizens beside our presence and making a ruckus?" Garman said during a November protest against the firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. "This is when we need to be showing up. We have so little power against what's going on, but I've always been brought up to believe that enough people, working together, can make a difference."
She's right. Protests can make a difference.
Whether it was the Stamp Act boycotts of the 1760s or the March on Washington in the 1960s, protesting is one of the best ways Americans can show their displeasure with a government hundreds or thousands of miles away.
In the past few years, protests have become a popular way of expression for Washington County residents, who have found themselves protesting against travel bans and immigration policies, and protesting for women's rights.
The teenagers and young adults protesting last week are following in a long line that stretches back to their parents and grandparents generations against issues like the Vietnam War or marching for gay rights, or Million Man March of 1995.
Students across Washington County have used political walk outs several times in the past few years. Students at Century High School staged a sit-in to protest anti-immigration policies by the Trump administration in 2017. A year earlier, students in Forest Grove marched across town in protest to the now-infamous "build the wall" banner two students hung at Forest Grove High School. That protest sparked several copy-cat marches across the Portland area to combat hatred.
And last year, students at several Washington County schools walked out of class as part of a national movement to bring attention to the ever-growing list of mass shootings in this country.
While lawmakers in Salem are considering amending the law to allow students as young as 16 to vote — a proposal this newspaper has reservations toward — we do believe students can, and should, express themselves through protests like this to make their voices heard.
Democracy begins with ordinary people. To live in a democracy doesn't just mean voting in elections, it means being involved every day.
We're glad today's young people understand that. Just as generations of proud Americans have for the past 250 years.
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