Almost 4 miles of bustling traffic in Renton was joined by signs, chants and high school students last Friday afternoon asking for older generations to make their future a better place.
Charles Versey, junior at Hazen High School, held up a sign that said “11 years.”
“That’s how long we have until irreversible change,” Versey said. “People think it’s irreversible now, but it’s not. We can actually still do something.”
Students from Hazen High School walked out of class April 26 to ask for local action for a sustainable Renton. The students chanted “Make Renton sustainable” and “Climate change is now, climate change is real” for their nearly 90-minute walk from the school down to Renton City Hall, where they sat on the steps for the afternoon.
Four of the students had attended the climate strike March 15 in Seattle, including sophomore AJ Rose. Rose said they wanted to organize something local for students in Renton who didn’t make it to that event.
Two other students, junior Hannah Schoettmer and sophomore Molly McAdams, said the four were sitting in a coffee shop before the Seattle march when they decided to bring the fight to Renton. After that, Schoettmer and McAdams organized and made signs for the event.
Schoettmer said the march to City Hall was empowering.
“We had a really strong energy coming down from Hazen and have a good group of people,” Schoettmer said.
Previous walkouts at Hazen have had numbers in the hundreds, according to students, but this walkout received about 20 participants.
Lack of awareness about the event might have led to the small turnout, Rose said.
“It’s a lot to ask to miss a Friday, but every (Hazen student) was there with us, even if they weren’t sitting on the steps,” McAdams said.
McAdams said other students might have been apathetic to walking several miles, but it went by fast for her and Schoettmer.
Ella Colwell, another participant at the Hazen walkout, said the march was a little scary for her, being so close to the cars along NE Third Street and then on Sunset Boulevard. She’s also participated in other walkouts at Hazen High School, but this was her first one where they left school property.
About halfway through the march, three Renton police officers approached on bicycle and escorted the students the rest of the way, helping them cross traffic.
Colwell said although the reactions from drivers were mostly positive, she saw some folks look at them with what she described as disgust. There was one instance where a man came out of his building and yelled “Go back to school” multiple times to the students.
“It was a little discouraging, but we still pushed through,” Colwell said.
According to the group’s Instagram account, the students were seeking “tangible, local action to combat the issue in Renton.”
The students also wanted to encourage other companies to mimic Microsoft’s self-tax, which gives money to sustainable energy. Microsoft also announced in April it was increasing its carbon fee.
The goal for the student organizers is to expand green energy locally for both corporations and the local consumer. Any way folks in Renton can reduce their daily carbon footprint is a show in solidarity, Rose said.
The decision to walk to City Hall was to make a significant impact with a clear motive, he said.
“(This issue is) something we wanted real people, like our representatives and those at city hall, to see, hear and understand,” Rose said.
That motive, he said, is carbon taxes for big corporations.
“If we tax the big businesses that make 76 percent of carbon emissions, then it could be a significant enough effect,” Rose said.
Colwell also said adults in Renton can use their voting power to make a difference.
“We’re kids and can’t really vote yet, so we’re hoping adults will start using their votes for good,” she said.
They’re also hoping to increase students’ engagement in local protests.
Schoettmer said she also wants to arrange a formal sit-down with city officials who can help them with their goals. Three of the students went inside City Hall to ask to meet with administrators and waste management staff.
They were able to give their contact information to the mayor’s office and hope to hear from them soon, McAdams said.
Deputy Public Affairs Administrator Preeti Shridhar said the students were referred to Linda Knight, who is going to talk to them about the city’s work on environment and ways to impact climate change.
“Renton has actually been very proactive and has made a huge impact with our efforts — with our emission reduction and LED lights, waste reduction garbage and recycling, and our conservation program,” Shridhar said in an email.
City council recently released a video on tips and strategies Renton residents can use to make a difference. The video is available at rentonwa.gov/council.
The students will be reaching out to Puget Sound Energy. After that, the organizers plan to attend a city council meeting, as well as create a list of demands for Renton.
Information on the walkout and future walkouts can be found on Instragram: @studentstrikerenton.