It was a rainy day when West Michigan’s youth decided to fight back, but the passion at the Grand Rapids Climate Strike was far from clouded.
Calvin Olson, a senior at Grandville High School, sent more than 400 emails and hundreds of phone calls to local officials after becoming the leader of the local strike. While Olson was taking control of the Grand Rapids event, held at Rosa Parks Circle, thousands of students across the world were preparing to do the same.
As part of an international movement where students left school Friday, March 15 to demand stronger climate policies, Calvin, along with members of his high school Green Team, started spreading the word about the strike months ago. As a result, students from Muskegon to Kalamazoo, as well as Kent County, gathered to make their voices heard.
“It’s great to see how much support we have for our cause,” Calvin said. “We are here because we are passionate about the environment, this is our planet and we have to take responsibility for the direction it is headed in. We don’t have a choice.”
Katie Kaiser, a senior at Grandville High and co-president of the Green Team, was happy to take time out of her schedule to participate.
“The planet is a topic that everyone should be interested in because we all have to live here,” Katie said. “Climate change is happening — that’s a scientific fact, it’s not a debate, it’s the world that we’re living in.”
Katie emphasized the importance of the public’s becoming educated about the environment, no matter their political views. “This isn’t an issue separated by politics, this is an issue for humanity.”
Four students from Portage Northern High School, Colin Carrol, Gabi Ford, Rachel Budnick and Lexie Kochawala, made the hour-long drive to Grand Rapids to add their voices.
“To say it was worth it is an understatement,” Gabi said. “This is a responsibility. It’s great to actually see other students up and taking a stand for our planet.”
Colin emphasized that any action is helpful, no matter how small.
“Any change makes a difference, even if it’s reducing plastic consumption,” he said. “We want people to understand that there are people out there that care, people that are passionate.”
Passing the Baton
John Considine, co-leader of the Grand Rapids Citizens’ Climate Lobby and a former Thornapple Kellogg teacher, stood on the sidelines of the strike, letting students who share his passion for the environment take the lead.
“My generation messed things up and, sadly, it’s in their hands to take care of it now,” he said.
Though the state of environmental laws is less than ideal at the moment, he said, seeing the next generation so passionate encourages him.
“Climate change, it’s real, it’s bad, but there’s hope,” Considine said. “These kids are an inspiration to all of us and the next step for what we are trying to accomplish.”
Ellen Lavigne, a senior liberal studies major at Grand Valley State University, spoke to the crowd about the importance of individual activism, specifically regarding personal consumption.
‘This is our planet and we have to take responsibility for the direction it is headed in. We don’t have a choice.’ — Calvin Olson, Grandville High School senior
“We’re here today because we love each other and we love this planet,” Lavigne said. “There are things that everyone can do, no matter how small, to make a true and important difference.”
Lavigne hopes that events like the strike bring attention to the bigger players in the game such as lawmakers and politicians.
“We’re not going to be satisfied until we see real change,” she said. “That’s why we’re here today and that’s why we won’t stop.”
Calvin Olson hopes that his work with the Youth Climate Strike reaches much farther than the Grandville community.
“We’re not going to stop trying to bring attention to this,” he said. “I hope we see changes in laws, in the conversation about the environment, and ultimately see our generation working together to make a difference for our kids and their kids as well.”