MOUNT VERNON — A large crowd of students and community members gathered Friday morning at the Skagit County Courthouse to demand action on climate change and environmental pollution, joining worldwide student-led protests called “the climate strikes.”

“To be completely blunt, climate change is scary,” Renad Alsilimy, associated student body president of Mount Vernon High School, told the crowd. “We’ve stayed silent in our actions because we’re unsure where to even start. The first step in real change is making some real noise and that’s what we’re doing today.”

She asked the crowd to look to actions both globally and locally for inspiration, from projects to combat deforestation, to the cleaning up of garbage in the oceans to bans on single-use plastics.

“There is hope for our world, but we have to demand,” she said.

Alsilimy said 70 students signed up for the strike, and she estimated about 30 more attended. The students were joined by community members.

Brian Conde-Martinez, a Mount Vernon High School junior, cited a United Nations report that warns of species extinction resulting from climate change and millions of premature deaths due to air pollution. Wildfires are expected to increase, an impact already being felt locally, he said.

“Who wants more smoky summers?” he said. “That is not the future I want to see. That is not the future I will take.”

He said people can reduce their environmental impacts with everyday choices, such as choosing to wear the clothes in their closets instead of buying new outfits.

Mount Vernon resident Margaret Orr, who organized the event, said she was inspired by teenage Swedish activist Great Thunberg’s sailboat journey across the Atlantic ocean to advocate for climate action.

“Your voice matters,” she told the crowd. “If you’re going to be 18 or older in November of 2020, you have the power to vote for a candidate with a clear and concise plan to combat our climate crisis, and no matter your age you have the power of your voice and to keep the conversation growing.”

Community member Barbara Clark encouraged the crowd to put pressure on their elected officials to take action.

“You have a lot of power if you work together to push on them,” she said. “You know who your senators are. They ain’t going to move at all unless people push them.”

Alsilimy said fighting climate change is an issue that can unite people.

“It doesn’t matter your race, ethnicity or sexual orientation, climate change is something we can get all behind,” she said.

— Reporter Jacqueline Allison: jallison@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2145, Twitter: @Jacqueline_SVH

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