In the dappled afternoon light under a tree fronting the University of Hawai‘i Maui College campus, about 60 people gathered in a circle on Friday as part of an international movement. The group, comprised mostly of students ages 12 to 20, was participating in the latest youth demonstration to demand immediate action from adults and politicians to address climate change and its catastrophic effects.
The day of action was inspired by Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teen who began the “School Strike for Climate” last year with her decision to skip school on Fridays and demonstrate for government climate action. On May 24, organizers estimated more than 1.6 million people, mostly youth, participated in the movement across 125 countries.
“We’re here today to show world leaders that we demand climate justice,” Punahele DeCosta, a Maui organizer for the Hawai‘i chapter of the US Youth Climate Strike, told the crowd. “We rally against the reduction of science. We rally against corporate greed. We rally against government inaction. Those contributing the least to climate change are affected the most. Our voices are not represented enough. So here we are, many in the movement too young to vote but determined to cause reform.”
“Today you are making a difference and joining a global revolution,” said Sam Spork, another organizer and student at Haleakala Waldorf School. “Considering that the majority of [those protesting today] are youth, fighting for the futures that are being taken away from them, amazes me. It makes me so proud of our generation…
“But it also saddens me. How is that children in the 21st century are the ones fighting for something so proven by science for decades now?” Spork asked.
“Students can change things,” UHMC sustainable science professor Tim Botkin told the circle. “When something is critical and people are afraid to get up and do something about it, just stand up. Then when one person stands up, 10 people will stand up. And when 10 people stand up, 100 people and then 1,000 people will stand up. And there will be a groundswell started by those who stood up. That’s what you can and should do. You are important to all of us, and it’s really critical that you show leadership.”
Council Chair Kelly King, who was also in attendance, agreed. “I’m convinced that it is going to be the voice of our youth that is going to make our politicians pay some heed to this,” she said.
After the talks, the group grabbed their poster boards and demonstration signs and took to the street, making laps down Ka‘ahumanu Avenue to Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center and back, rallying with chants like “Get on your feet! Beat the heat!” and “Be part of the solution! Not the pollution!”
“We gotta save this planet,” Amber, a 15-year-old from King Kekaulike High School, told me on the way back to the college. “I wish more people took this seriously.” She was one of a group of three students who came to the event together. For two of them, it was their first time being involved in a protest or demonstration like this.
What’s your goal and what message are you trying to communicate, I asked them.
“For more people to notice what’s going on and take action,” they answered. “Open your eyes and get off your phone, before there’s nothing to look at.”
As the sun set over Mauna Kahalawai and the demonstrators began to disperse I asked DeCosta and Spork what they thought of the event.
“I feel like we’re really invested in getting people to acknowledge the movement and keep people aware of what’s going on,” said Spork.
“We really wanted people to know who we were and that there is going to be a climate movement here on Maui,” DeCosta added. “This started it, and now people are going to know we’re here.”
See the day of action through the eyes of photographer Jade Borchers, a student at Haleakala Waldorf High School, below:
See Maui’s climate strikers in action:
Photos 1 & 2 and video by MauiTime
Other photos by Jade Borchers of Haleakala Waldorf High School