Illinois Youth Lead Strike for Climate Justice

December 5, 2019 | 4:47 pm
Jessica Collingsworth
Jessica Collingsworth
Former Contributor

A recent UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report warns that the world will miss the opportunity to stay on track towards the 1.5°C temperature goal in the Paris Agreement unless global emissions drop by 7.6 percent each year over the next decade. The report notes that solutions to reduce carbon emissions are available, and meeting our goals is possible, but we are not acting fast enough or at a large enough scale.

Instead of action, the Trump Administration is formally taking steps to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement. For this reason, it’s more important than ever for states and cities to address the climate crisis–and many of them are doing their part. Youth around the country are doing much of the work and filling the void left by the executive branch. 

Across the Midwest, states are introducing 100% clean energy legislation, with the most comprehensive bill being introduced here in Illinois: the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA)(SB2131/HB3624). In addition to state policy, over 90 cities across the U.S. have adopted 100% clean energy goals and 1195 jurisdictions in 25 countries have declared a climate emergency. This includes declarations from the two largest cities in the US, New York City and Los Angeles.  Many of the declarations are a result of public pressure on policymakers to act on climate.

Leading the charge across the globe is the Youth Climate Movement. In September, Illinois Youth Organizations gathered thousands of people to strike to demand climate justice. And on Friday, they will strike again, demanding that the City of Chicago declare a climate emergency. Why should you join the strike, and what does a climate emergency declaration mean? To answer these questions I recently spoke with Ella Barry, a member of Illinois Youth Climate Strike (IYCS), to get her take on why we should all join the fight.


Jessica: What motivates you to do this work, how did you get involved?

Ella: I got involved with ILYCS last April. Isabella Johnson, our state lead, goes to my high school; I saw her posting about applications for the team and I decided to go for it. I am motivated to do this work because I have seen the accomplishments that huge movements like ours have made in the past and I am confident that we can make huge structural change like that again when it comes to the issue of climate change, the most pressing issue of our time. I am fighting for this cause because my friends, my brother, my classmates, and every young person in this world deserves a livable future, and we won’t have that if we keep going down the path we are on now.

 Jessica: How did Illinois Youth Climate Strike form? What other groups do you work with?

 Ella: Illinois Youth Climate Strike formed shortly after our national branch, United States Youth Climate Strike, was started. Anya Sastry, who is now the National Outreach for USYCS, started the Illinois branch and our current state lead, Isabella Johnson, joined her soon after. We work with lots of other organizations in the Chicago area including the Sunrise Movement’s Chicago hub, the Chicago Group of the Sierra Club, the Alliance for Climate Education, Rising Tide Chicago, 350 Chicago, and Indivisible Chicago. Our group only organizes in the United States, but we strike in solidarity with the International Youth Climate Movement.

Jessica: The next Youth Climate Strike in Chicago is scheduled for Friday, December 6.  The demand is for the City of Chicago to declare a climate emergency. There is no single definition of what that means, but rather it’s a driver to achieve carbon neutrality and a directive for further political action to address the climate crisis. What policies would you like to see the City of Chicago put in place?

Ella: What we want from the City of Chicago is, first and foremost, a city emergency on climate change to be declared. That is our main goal for this strike. We also want Chicago to adopt the resolutions proposed in the Green New Deal, to allow no more fossil fuel infrastructure projects, and on the state level we want Governor Pritzker to support and help to pass CEJA.

Jessica: The City of Chicago recently committed to 100% clean energy, how does declaring a city emergency on climate change fit in with that commitment?

Ella: We are very appreciative and supportive of the city going 100% clean energy.  However, that is not enough; we need more to be done.

Jessica: How can we hold elected officials accountable to climate and clean energy commitments?

Ella: The biggest way to hold our politicians accountable is to vote if you are able. Over the last few years, we have made it clear to our politicians that if they are not committed to our environment, we will vote them out of office. The other biggest way you can hold your politicians accountable is through protest. Protests show our politicians that their constituents, especially their younger constituents who can’t vote, care about our earth and will take action to save it.

Jessica: Does ILYCS plan to organize other strikes in other Illinois cities for Mayors to declare climate emergencies?

Ella: ILYCS mainly organizes in the city of Chicago and that is currently the only city in which we are demanding a climate emergency declaration. However, on September 20th we also had a strike organized in Springfield.

 Jessica: How can people get involved and attend the next strike?

 Ella: ILYCS’s next climate strike will be held on Friday, December 6. Protesters will gather at Crown Fountain in Millennium Park at 11 am. From there, we will march to Federal Plaza where we will hold a rally. If you’re looking to get involved with this strike, the biggest things you can do are come, encourage you friends and family to come, and spread ILYCS’s graphics and social media posts about the strike. You can find Illinois Youth Climate Strike on Instagram and Twitter as @climatestrikeil and on Facebook as Illinois Youth Climate Strike. If you are a student and are looking for another way to get involved, pay attention to ILYCS’s social medias for times when we are accepting applications for new team members and new school ambassadors!

Let’s Strike!

Now is the time to hold your elected officials accountable and call on them to act on climate. Join us on December 6th as we strike for climate justice and demand the City of Chicago declare a climate emergency. All ages are welcome, this a safe and peaceful action.