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‘It helps a lot with climate grief’: Student organizers gear up for next week’s Minnesota Youth Climate Strike 

Minnesota Youth Climate Strikers and The Peace Poets
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Minnesota Youth Climate Strikers and The Peace Poets (left-to-right): Mari Hefte, Isra Hirsi, Priya Dalal-Whelan, Frank Antonio Lopez, Lu Aya.

On September 20, thousands of Minnesota youths will march out of school and to the state capital grounds for MN Strikes Back, the second Minnesota Youth Climate Strike. Thursday evening, as participants in the Democratic presidential debated in Houston, the future looked bright in a meeting room at the Danish American Center off the Mississippi River, where members of the Minnesota Youth Climate Strike huddled up to help change the world for the better.

To be sure, the day’s news that Donald Trump had rolled back many of the Obama administration’s water protections had the teens ticked, and talking, and planning for action — for next Friday and beyond. “White adults in power have failed generations for years and years and years,” said Priya Dalal-Whelan, a junior at the Perpich Arts High School.

“I would say the defining issues for my generation are gun violence and climate change,” said Mari Hefte, a Minneapolis South student.

In advance of Friday’s global and Minnesota Youth Climate Strike, I sat down with executive director Isra Hirsi and other members of the group at their weekly organizing meeting, which doubled as a songwriting workshop with New York-based activist songwriters The Peace Poets.

MinnPost: The walk-out and strike is a week from Friday. Tell me who are you and what do you want people to know? What’s most important about the strike?

Priya Dalal-Whelan: I go to Perpich Arts High School in Golden Valley, but I live in South Minneapolis. I think the strikes are really important, because it’s a really great way to raise awareness about the climate crisis and how big of an issue it is right now. I also think it’s really powerful to see students not attending school for a day, just to fight for something that we all care about and also impacts everybody’s life. I think it’s important to take it into your own hands and also demand something when you know there’s a problem.

Isra Hirsi: I go to South High School. I was at the [strike] in [Washington] D.C. in March. It was a really, really inspiring moment. I think it was really powerful to see, I think we had about 4,000 to 5,000 people there on that day. It was really cool to see so many people come out; you could see the kids coming from the train stations, walking to the capital, and it was really powerful to see everybody come in masses together from their schools.

MinnPost: You launched it in Minnesota. How did you get the idea?

IH: I’m the co-founder of national and executive director of U.S. Youth Climate Strike. Nobody was doing the climate strike for March 15, protests existed in the United States, but they weren’t organizing a strike. And so somebody that followed me on Instagram, DM-ed me, asking me if I could organize March 15 for my state, and I asked her if she was doing it by herself, and she was, so I offered to help nationally, and from there we became the co-founders and we got another one from New York City, and we just hit the ground running. Now I’m the sole executive director of U.S. Youth Climate Strike.

MinnPost: Today Trump rolled back all these water protections … and you’re going to be at the capital next Friday. What would you say to the grown-ups who are entrusted with your future, and in particular the president?

PDW: I think it’s not a new thing that adults have failed us. Specifically, white adults in power have been failing generations for years and years and years. So every new thing is disturbing. Every new thing affects us, but I think it would be a mistake to say that this is something that hasn’t been going on forever. So I guess I’m sick and tired of people not acting for the interests of the country, the president not acting for the interest of the country’s future and their own children’s future.

MinnPost: On a day-to-day basis, given that you’re all here and fighting for change, how do the headlines feel? Is there a sense of despair, or hope?

PDW: The 2016 election happened my freshman year of high school, and the 2020 election will happen my senior year, and I see it very much as having defined my youth. This presidency and this fight has defined my high school experience in a way that it shouldn’t have. In a way that good government has no business doing. And it’s just something you get used to. End of the day, it becomes another thing that you’re thinking about, just like the test next week, or whatever’s going on with your friends. That’s the scary thing, that it just becomes normal.

MinnPost: What would you say to your peers, or classmates, who don’t share your concerns or awareness? Why is it important to show up?

Mari Hefte: I go to South High School. I just think that there’s not really a huge point going to school for a future when the future is really up in the air and we don’t really know what’s going to happen. Our lives and the livelihood of everyone on Earth is pretty much in the hands of our government who’s been taking money from the fossil fuel industry and working for their interests. I don’t think the climate crisis is any individual’s fault. It’s systematic. It’s been happening because of the system that is in place, the system that works for the benefit of big companies. We need to make sure that they’re working for the actual people, and making sure that we’re not going to have a global catastrophe.

I think Friday is going to be really fun. It’s going to be a good experience for everyone. A lot of kids I talk to at my school, the number one issue they care about is climate change. And whether they have the time or energy or resources to actually do work on it, that’s not really up to them. So this is just an easy way to start getting involved. It helps a lot with climate grief, like people wake up and they can’t sleep because they’re constantly thinking about what is the future going to be like?

MinnPost: Peace Poets, what’s your mission here and next week?

Lu Aya: About a year ago, asked us to support the worldwide day of action that they called Rise For Climate, last September 8. The idea was to try and fill this really important movement with powerful music. It can make the movement more effective, more inspiring, more sustainable. For the last ten years, we’ve supported movements by writing easily learnable songs that could really poignantly express our message in a way that was going to both feel good to us, as those participating in the actions, rallies, and meetings, as well as help our movements to be better understood and received by outside audiences.

We write songs with community. Today we’re going to teach some songs as well as create some songs, and then depending on the interest of these young folks, maybe practice leading songs, because it’s an art within itself that can make an action feel really powerful.

Frank Antonio Lopez: The songwriting energy comes from the organizing meetings, in the hearts of people who are getting ready for direct action, so it’s a nice song but it’s not just something to be just listened to, or relaxed to. It’s more so intended for the purpose of motivating and gathering and remembering and definitely moving the hearts of people who otherwise might not be moved.

It’s just another tool for organizers and community activists to have in their tool belt, in the same way that all the artists around the world right now are creating incredible art that identifies not only the problems, but also gives solutions with a highlight on indigenous leadership, as well as conservation of waters and land and also the animals that are being affected as well. They don’t have someone representing them, so they need people to stand up for them, too.

Comments (25)

  1. Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 09/13/2019 - 10:22 am.

    The article talks about climate ‘crisis’ yet says nothing about it.

    No solutions, no goals. Yet the talk about ‘change’ was continuous. We are teaching our children to fear where science says we have little to fear. We will have a little warming, our crops will be more abundant, and people will live healthier lives.

    The world is greener, we live longer, and developed countries (those that use fossil fuels) have seen a 95% decline in deaths and injuries from climate related disasters. It’s no wonder countries like India are building more coal power plants. It will bring good things to their children (as it has done here).

    “The number of people exposed to indoor air pollution has also fallen steadily from an estimated 3.6 billion in 1990 to 2.4 billion today despite the global population increasing. India has proven a notable example in combating indoor air pollution by expanding and modernizing its electricity network as well as providing LPG as a cooking fuel.”

    • Submitted by David Lundeen on 09/13/2019 - 01:55 pm.

      It’s quite curious that you’re citing a 2016 article, yet in the meantime the current administration has taken extreme steps to the detriment of humanity to allow increased water and air pollution. Did you consider this obvious dilemma?

      • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 09/13/2019 - 05:13 pm.

        I was talking about climate.

        How are the administration’s steps extreme, and how are they a detriment to humanity?

    • Submitted by Douglas Owens-Pike on 09/14/2019 - 03:44 am.

      The science is so well-founded I find it difficult to believe that you don’t understand what these young people are fighting for. Virtually it is the survival of life as we know it. Your references do not address science. Do you work for the oil and gas industry trying to keep people confused?

      • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 09/14/2019 - 08:58 am.

        The science you talk of is not well founded. It’s all predictions that never seem to come true. In 1989, They predicted a climate refugee crisis by 2000. Never happened. Today, they are predicting 10-15 years out will be disaster. Won’t happen. We will see a slight warming.

        Today, we see some effects from climate change, but an overall benefit that modern technology allows.

        Could you give a link to the data you speak of?

        • Submitted by Tim McCarthy on 09/16/2019 - 11:59 am.

          Who is this “they” you speak of? Who were the authors of the 1989 study you “cite”?
          Where is your data?

          • Submitted by Steve Rose on 09/16/2019 - 01:38 pm.

            Not hard to find, if you look:


            “UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ A senior U.N. environmental official says entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth by rising sea levels if the global warming trend is not reversed by the year 2000.

            Coastal flooding and crop failures would create an exodus of ″eco- refugees,′ ′ threatening political chaos, said Noel Brown, director of the New York office of the U.N. Environment Program, or UNEP.

            He said governments have a 10-year window of opportunity to solve the greenhouse effect before it goes beyond human control.”

            That ten year window closed ten years ago. Earlier this year, I heard that we have twelve years. Link provided below, for your convenience.


            • Submitted by Tim McCarthy on 09/17/2019 - 10:41 am.

              You said: “1989, They predicted a climate refugee crisis by 2000.”
              The article does not say that at all. It said that if action was not taken by 2000, crisis will follow at some unspecified date. You misrepresented what was written

              • Submitted by Steve Rose on 09/17/2019 - 11:20 am.

                Excerpts from the 1989 AP article linked above.

                “He said governments have a 10-year window of opportunity to solve the greenhouse effect before it goes beyond human control.”

                According to this, it went beyond human control 10 years ago.

                “The most conservative scientific estimate that the Earth’s temperature will rise 1 to 7 degrees in the next 30 years, said Brown.”

                When will the outcome of this “most conservative scientific estimate” from 20 years ago begin?

              • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 09/17/2019 - 08:27 pm.

                Correct. And today, they are saying if we don’t take action by a specified date… Armageddon. Same old line.

      • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 09/14/2019 - 09:52 pm.

        To your other point, these young people are not ‘fighting’ for anything. They are taking a day off school and protesting. They still ride on gas-guzzling school buses and learn in schools heated by natural gas. Where are they fighting? Where are their sacrifices?

        For an example of what our public truly thinks of the climate ‘crisis,’ a Washington Post poll shows that most Americans would not even sacrifice $24 per year to fix it. Your ‘crisis’ is melting in front of your eyes.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/16/2019 - 01:11 pm.

          First, Bjorn Lomborg is not a reliable source for anything to do with climate. It’s like asking Donald Trump about ethics in government.

          Second, you’re cherry-picking the results you want to cite. If we’re going to pretend we think Mr. Lomborg (whose credentials seemed limited to graduate degrees in political science) is telling the truth, the linked survey shows that 60% favor raising taxes on companies that burn fossil fuels “even if that may lead to increased electricity and transportation prices.”

        • Submitted by Donna Wiemann on 09/18/2019 - 02:31 pm.

          Ray, how do you know these students will continue to run on gas guzzling buses? There is a likelihood they may bike or walk to school. They did not set up the bus transportation to and from school so blaming them for something they did not have anything to do with is odd. Same with their schools..they did not set up the source of heat in their school so why criticize them for attending? As they move into adulthood and you can prove they are not making any sacrifices based on their life choices, then your assumptions will have more merit.

  2. Submitted by Steve Rose on 09/15/2019 - 06:45 pm.

    My sons started elementary school in Minneapolis about twenty years ago. They were taught as fact that dire climate catastrophes were looming on the horizon. They were also taught that their parents were killing the planet. They felt hopeless. Why should they prepare for a future that would never be? We did a lot of un-teaching at the dinner table, and we helped them overcome the anxiety served up by the school. Denying children a childhood by making them little climate disciples; that was in the tool belt. Now they are experiencing grief. Why wouldn’t they?

    Those climate predictions of 20 years ago; none came to fruition.

    • Submitted by Tim McCarthy on 09/16/2019 - 12:13 pm.

      None? Well that’s a convincing argument. Except it is untrue.

      • Submitted by Steve Rose on 09/16/2019 - 12:51 pm.

        That is hardly a rebuttal. An example, perhaps? Carbon PPM doesn’t qualify, only its affects.

        There have been many climate catastrophes predicted over the past decades; thirty years ago, it was the fastest growing cottage industry.

        The article linked below recounts some of them; I chose this one because it provides quotes from articles that are behind a pay-wall.

        Fool me once shame on you; fool me repeatedly over a period of four or five decades, shame on me. It is not cynicism, it is experience.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/16/2019 - 01:58 pm.

          ” I chose this one because it provides quotes from articles that are behind a pay-wall.”

          As the kids would say, LOL. Watt’s Up With That, which features prominently a quote from that distinguished sage Andrew Breitbart, can scarcely be called a reliable aggregator of climate information. I don’t think the Heartland Institute would be paying to hear someone speak if they didn’t already like what he was going to say.

          “Free” does not equal “unbiased,” even if they do tell you what you want to hear. That is not cynicism, it is reality.

          • Submitted by Steve Rose on 09/16/2019 - 02:12 pm.

            Ad hominem arguments; both popular and ineffective.

            What did they report that was incorrect?

            • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/16/2019 - 02:38 pm.

              That wasn’t an ad hominem argument (look it up). It was merely pointing out their lack of credibility.

              I could, without much effort, find many articles from the Sierra Club (not behind a paywall!) that rebut the fantasy that the earth is not warming due to human causes. Would you accept those as accurate? I can also, again without much effort, find numerous peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals to the same effect. Are you prepared to believe them, or wold you dismiss them as something to be “un-taught?”

              Why does “climate skepticism” go only one way? Why the mistrust of scientists?

              • Submitted by Steve Rose on 09/16/2019 - 04:43 pm.


                Excerpt: “Ad hominem is a Latin word that means “against the man.” As the name suggests, it is a literary term that involves commenting on or against an opponent, to undermine him instead of his arguments.”

                Your largest paragraph was spent casting dispersion on the source; you never made a rebuttal of what the source said. That is Ad hominem.

                I will accept any Sierra Club reference, or any other source, that you provide that documents one of the climate catastrophes that was forecasted ten or more years ago that has come to pass. In the comment thread above, the sources I linked document the many disasters that were due ten or twenty years ago.

                I trust scientists; I don’t trust future tellers that extrapolate from little data, and are reliably wrong.

                • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/17/2019 - 09:02 am.

                  “I will accept any Sierra Club reference, or any other source, that you provide that documents one of the climate catastrophes that was forecasted ten or more years ago that has come to pass.”

                  In other words, you will believe what you want to hear.

                  A man once told his friends that he was going to jump off the top of a 20-story building. They all told him not to do it, that he would be killed. He did it anyway. After he fell 15 floors, he laughed. “They were wrong. I’m perfectly fi . . .”

                  Attacking a person’s credibility based on what they say or do is not an illegitimate rhetorical technique. Ask any trial lawyer.

                  • Submitted by Steve Rose on 09/17/2019 - 10:04 am.

                    Yes, lawyers use ad hominem attacks on witnesses which are primary sources of information. Not the same as a media source quoting another media source. If you cannot challenge what was quoted, you don’t have an argument.

                    I am looking forward to your Sierra Club links. I am sure their information will be verifiable and therefore believable.

        • Submitted by Tim McCarthy on 09/17/2019 - 11:04 am.

          Hansen’s b scenario is quite accurate.

  3. Submitted by Janette Dean on 09/17/2019 - 11:20 pm.

    Lots of love and solidarity to you wise and courageous youth. So many of us Minnesotans, Americans and global citizens will be striking with you! 🌎

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