OGDEN — Raquel Juarez participated in a climate strike for the 38th time Friday afternoon.
Juarez started striking the Friday after March 15, 2019, the date of the first global youth climate strike, while she was a senior at Ben Lomond High School. She has demonstrated every week since then at the Utah State Capitol.
She was inspired by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who was 16 when she led that first global youth climate strike in March. Thunberg had been missing school every Friday since August 2018 to demonstrate outside the Swedish Parliament, calling for leaders to take more radical action to reduce emissions and limit climate change.
“I’d always been passionate about the climate, but obviously no one seemed like it mattered,” Juarez said, referring to society in general and world leaders, “but I saw she created this whole movement, and I knew I needed to jump right in.”
Now in her first year studying medical assisting at Ogden-Weber Technical College, she was the only student from Ben Lomond that she knew of who was demonstrating regularly in support of political action on climate change. But recently she got connected to the youth group leading climate strikes in Northern Utah.
The number of participants at Friday’s event — about 50 youth — was lower than the Ogden youth climate strike in September, which attracted more than 200 participants, including youth and adults, who were part of the largest global demonstration to date demanding action on the climate.
While the December strike was smaller, the local youth group’s leadership is expanding.
Juarez is a newcomer to the group and an example of the growing circle of the youth leaders in Northern Utah.
Just like the global movement, the youth movement in Ogden is largely being led by young women, though Giovanni Sanchez, a young man in his senior year at Ogden High, is also becoming more closely involved and spoke at the strike’s rally at the municipal building Friday. Sanchez is also the state chair of the Utah High School Democrats, he said.
“As new people come on, we notice that some people have better strengths in certain parts,” said Aimee Urbina, one of the group’s organizers, “... the one leading the chant right now (Juarez) is really into leading chants and giving speeches, so we definitely want to give her the room to show her skills and make her feel empowered.”
Urbina, a recent Weber State graduate, led the march down 25th Street in September, but she was rooting from the sidelines on Friday, stopping to take photos of others in the limelight so she could share them on social media.
She said that early leaders of the group aren’t threatened by others who want a leadership role.
“We definitely work together and collaboratively,” Urbina said, “which is awesome because we’re all here for the same reasons, and we’re all friends, so it’s great.”
The group also marked a victory at their rally on the Ogden Municipal Building steps.
DaVinci Academy senior Rachel Love, one of the group’s lead organizers, thanked the Ogden City Council for passing a resolution to move toward net-100% renewable energy on Tuesday, making the city eligible to participate in a new pathway toward renewable energy created by House Bill 411, passed during the 2019 session of the Utah Legislature.
However, as the leadership of the climate youth movement in Northern Utah expands to those new at organizing, there have been some bumps in the road.
Sanchez said some students at Ogden High who are members of a community branch of the Utah High School Democrats, which is not affiliated with the school, posted flyers around Ogden High School that were taken down by administrators.
Sanchez acknowledged that the group did not request permission to post the flyers and would be taking a different approach the next time they want to promote an event at the school.
“School administrators did have the flyers removed inside the school as they had not been through an approval process and the flyers appeared to advocate missing school,” said Jer Bates, communications director for Ogden School District, in an email.
“Ogden High School does support student rights, and Ogden High School is home to an environmental club which has worked closely with the school administration to implement environmentally responsible practices,” Bates continued. “While it is not out of the question, it would certainly require discussion for the school or the district to even consider promoting an activity that advocates missing school.”
Sanchez said that a student he knew at Bonneville High who had taken a similar action to his group — passing out flyers on cars in the school parking lot — was called to the office by an administrator.
She was told she couldn’t advocate for students to miss school, according to a online chat among organizers that Sanchez shared, and that she would be marked truant if she were to participate in the strike on Friday. Due to the experience, she chose not to participate.
Lane Findlay, community relations specialist with Weber School District, had not been able to speak with school administration Friday, but said in an email that he would be unable to share information about the incident if it had occurred due to student privacy law.
He said that the supervising district administrator was not aware of a situation like this happening at Bonneville.
Weber School District’s attendance policy states that truancy is “an absence without the permission of the parent and school.”
Organizers said they want to work collaboratively with school districts on these issues.
Kyia Hill, a Weber State alum and youth organizer, said in a message that the group doesn’t want to “hurt the opportunity to have dialogue with (the districts) to possibly find a solution.”