Rainbow Rant: Meet three of Columbus' youngest climate change activists

Joy Ellison
Natalie Gillispie

Thousands of young people worldwide will go on strike to call attention to climate change on Friday, Sept. 20. Among them will be three Columbus elementary school students.

Cora Spurgeon, William Alley and Natalie Gillispie have organized their classmates at Red Oak Community School to participate in the strike. On Friday, they will be at the Ohio Statehouse from noon to 2 pm, leading chants and songs and carrying signs they made themselves.

These young activists are already veterans. Last spring, they staged a rally for Columbus Earth Week. They are also becoming well-versed in the science of climate change, and increasingly aware of the impact it will have on their lives.

Natalie Gillispie, 10, who completed a project on the polar ice caps, said that she is striking, “So us kids don't have to grow up in a world that's overheated and melting."

Like many young people participating in the Climate Strike, Red Oak students are inspired by the example of Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg. Thirteen months ago, Thunberg began striking from school each Friday to bring attention to climate change.

Of Thunberg, Cora Spurgeon, 9, said, “She is really serious.”

William Alley, 9, recalled how Thunberg traveled by boat from Sweden to New York City to speak in front of the United Nations. “She took a sailboat. No planes, no motors," he said. "She didn’t want to use fossil fuels to help make her point.”

Thurberg’s courageous efforts to respond to climate change as an urgent crisis, an approach she describes as only logical, has had a profound impact. What began has a solitary vigil outside of the Swedish parliament building has grown into a global movement.

Like Thurberg, the Columbus student activists express hope that adaptation is still possible. Spurgeon said that she is striking because “I think that it's really good to learn about this," adding, “People in the future should really learn about what happened [to cause the crisis].”

I find myself agreeing with Spurgeon. Climate change, while terrifying, is an opportunity to learn. Her words help me imagine how much better our lives could be if we heed her call. If we confront this crisis, we’ll be rewarded with cleaner air, healthy oceans, more just relationships between human beings and all of the beauty and possibility that children like Spurgeon create as they grow.

William Alley explained that he is striking because “if our strike makes a good impact, then even if we can't change it, maybe someone else could.” He is right: This problem is urgent, but every action that we take to address it will make the path forward easier.

Alley, Spurgeon and Gillispie’s demonstration is affiliated with the Ohio Climate Strike, a student organization that is holding events across the state. If you’re wondering if these young people are offering solutions, let me assure you that they are. They have thrown their support behind the Green New Deal, championed by U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The efforts of Columbus’ young climate strikers remind me how many successful movements are led by young people. On Friday, I’ll be marching alongside them.