Philly Strikes Back—Philadelphia’s latest Youth Climate Strike, on December 6—offered quite a sight. About 1,500 young people and allies came together on Thomas Paine Plaza, just across from City Hall, and then joined in a march through Center City calling for climate justice. Part of a wave of events across the nation, the strike event was timed to coincide with the United Nations COP25 climate meetings in Madrid.
It was inspiring to see the crowd, made up mostly of high-school students, listen to their peers share their climate concerns.. Philadelphia students whose families have immigrated to the U.S. from countries including Sudan, Venezuela, and Niger spoke movingly of the suffering caused by climate change, both directly and indirectly, in their homelands.
These students and youth organizers from Sunrise Movement Philadelphia, PA Youth Climate Strike, and Fridays for Future are drawing connections between issues of economic justice, environmental justice, and climate justice, including those affecting our own city and region. They called on the city to:
- Ban new fossil fuel infrastructure in the city of Philadelphia
- Work for a just transition and new, well-paying union jobs for workers displaced by the move away from fossil fuels
- End the ten-year property tax abatement and allocate funds needed to make Philadelphia public school buildings non-toxic and provide healthy learning environments for all students
- Pass “Right to Breathe” legislation, starting with a ban on large scale industrial use of hydrofluoric acid.
High levels of asbestos as well as mold and lead in Philly public school buildings have put children’s and teachers’ health at serious risk. In their demand for full remediation of these toxic substances, the striking students have endorsed the growing call to repeal the city’s 10-year property tax abatement for new real-estate development. The tax abatement has led to record new construction in the city, although mostly in Center City, and has led to higher levels of gentrification with associated stresses on poor communities. Ending or significantly reducing it would give the city a major funding stream that would cover some of the costs of remediation.
Students and leaders from Philly Thrive, the community group closest to the PES Oil refinery in South Philadelphia, also called for City officials to ensure that the refinery remain permanently closed in the aftermath of the explosion in June. As members of a front-line community, Thrive leaders spoke to the fact that low-income communities and communities of color are more often forced to suffer toxic health risks and the worst side effects of climate change.
Safe schools—schools where the air itself is safe to breathe—are something every child has a right to. That this right is more tenuous in poorly funded city schools than in more affluent school districts is an issue of environmental justice. The principles of environmental justice and climate justice have no “air” between them, and the case of the PES refinery is a prime example. These principles are closely linked in the vision of the Green New Deal, just as the need to safely remove asbestos from schools has been linked to the call to end the city’s real-estate tax abatement.
350 Philadelphia, a cosponsor of this Youth Climate Strike, stands with the students and youth organizers in making these connections and will continue to advocate with them for healthy schools.