As they mark their first anniversary, Iowa City Student Climate Strikers turn down award, join ‘digital strike’

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A collage of media coverage of and tweets from the Iowa City Student Climate Strikers. — courtesy of the strikers

Every week since they began demonstrating outside of the Iowa City Community School District offices on March 15, 2019, the Iowa City Student Climate Strike has reiterated their message of climate action through social media, letters to the editor and, of course, in-person protests.

Massimo Biggers, Alex Howe, Ian Martinez, Maddie Peterson and the other local junior high, high school and college students that make up the Strike have accumulated headlines — especially in October, when they were joined by Greta Thunberg, the inspiration for their movement, for a massive downtown Iowa City rally — and awards. The group was voted Best Environmental Advocate by Little Village readers in the 2019 Best of the CRANDIC survey, dubbed “Person of the Year” by the Press-Citizen and, most recently, received recognition from the Iowa United Nations Association as a local group advancing the sustainability goals of the U.N.

The group turned down the U.N. award on Thursday.

“We respectfully say that we cannot accept it,” the strikers said in a statement read by Patterson, a UI student. “Despite our year-long strike, we are still far, far away from meeting our obligations to cut carbon emissions. As Greta Thunberg has said, we have to treat this crisis as a crisis. We would like to put this award on hold until the school district, the city, the university and the state of Iowa step up and turn words into real climate action.”

While the strike has had more success than many of their counterparts across the country, securing climate resolution pledges from the Iowa City school board, city council and UI, they say they aren’t counting their chickens. Many of the pledges have yet to be put into action, and they are far from soliciting a climate action plan from Gov. Kim Reynolds, or closing the UI’s coal and natural gas power plant, two of their current goals.

“Last year CO2 emissions increased by 3.38% in Iowa. Saying is not the same as doing,” Howe, a City High freshman, said in a written statement. “It is time to realize nothing happens with words, but with actions. It is time our leaders realize that, and step up to combat this climate emergency.”

In the midst of the climate crisis is another crisis: the coronavirus pandemic, which has shaken the U.S. economy and led to school, work and event cancellations around the globe, including in Johnson County. (The Iowa City Community School District has yet to follow the Des Moines’ lead in calling off classes, but officials are considering it.)

In light of CDC recommendations to avoid public gatherings, the Iowa City Climate Strikers are joining the global “digital strike” encouraged by Thunberg. Biggers, Howe and Martinez will spend Friday sharing photos from locations at which Climate Strikers have demonstrated in the last year.

While the official strike is now in its 52nd week, the original organizers are celebrating 57 weeks since their climate advocacy organizing began.

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