Climate Strike Blair County Hosts First Event

The next public event is a Soapbox Climate Strike on October 4 at the Blair County Courthouse


Mario Grugan

Between 180-200 people showed up for first #ClimateStrike Blair County event at Haritage Plaza in Altoona on October 20

Almost 200 people gathered in Heritage Plaza in Altoona to strike for climate justice on Friday, September 20th. The event was part of the Global Climate Strike movement sparked by sixteen year old environmental activist Greta Thunberg.

Local turnout, according to retired teacher and event co-organizer Jody Wallace, was diverse and exceeded her expectations.

Speakers ranging in age from 5-60 addressed the crowd about a variety of topics, including the importance of combating climate change, how to pressure political leaders to make policy changes, how to fight on behalf of climate justice, as well as arguments against climate deniers.

[Skipping school] is up to you, your school, and your parents,” said Wallace, “My personal view is sometimes a person has to give up his or her schooling for the sake of their education”

— Organizer Jody Wallace

“My own expectation was that I get off my own butt and act,” said co-organizer Steve Elfelt of Altoona, “the moment I started, the world had changed [for me].

When it came to Thunberg, both organizers were adamant in their praise.

Wallace said that Thunberg is her “lantern” and an inspiration to all. Elfelt believes firmly in Thunberg’s will to act. 

“I really believe what Greta says, we don’t need hope, what we need is action. Once you act, hope is everywhere,” said Elfelt.

While overall turnout at the event exceeded the organizers expectations, the most disappointing thing to some was the lack of teenagers in attendance. The Blair County crowd consisted mostly of college age youth, adults and young children.

In the national media, high school students were encouraged to take the day off of school to attend rallies, but in Blair County attendance among school age youth was conspicuously low.

But, according to organizers, the event is just a beginning and they hope that attendance and, more importantly, climate action among local youth will improve as the climate situation gets more of the media attention it deserves.

Coverage of the event by the local press was good. Two local TV stations and several local newspapers were present and reported on the rally.

However, according to several high school students in attendance, there was little knowledge of the event outside of those who are already involved in climate activistism.

Adding to the low attendance was the fact that the event occurred on a school day for most area students.

The issue of skipping school in order to strike was a delicate one, said Wallace, and one that certainly affected the turnout.

“[Skipping school] is up to you, your school, and your parents,” said Wallace, “My personal view is sometimes a person has to give up his or her schooling for the sake of their education.” 

When it comes to activism, Elfelt challenged youth to consider their choices and act.

“Every moment of your life you always have choices. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, you always have a choice. The moment you chose, you create new possibilities and you turn off others,” said Elfelt, “Finally, when you create and turn off possibilities, you alone are responsible for the possibilities you create. So if you don’t like the possibilities you are creating and destroying, you need to make different choices.”

Wallace, Elfelt and Greta Thunberg all agree on one specific point, that public action is needed before climate change can happen.

All agree that in order to create a climate friendly world we must first make an action-friendly world. Solutions are out there we just have to get involved. 

While the event was nonpartisan, most of the attendees were liberal in their political views, but not all.

I’d love to be the first [Blair County] Republican to support protecting the planet. Just because I support Trump doesn’t mean I can’t support this”

— Samantha Paule

Blair County Republican Committee member Samantha Paule was also in attendance at the rally and stressed that the climate issue should not be a partisan one.

“I’d love to be the first [Blair County] Republican to support protecting the planet,” said Paule, “Just because I support Trump doesn’t mean I can’t support this.”

Unfortunately, “the blue-red fight makes it hard for anyone to cross the line,” said Paule.

The next public event planned by the organizers is a Soapbox Climate Strike, a one hour of public reading from recent climate reports and news that will take place on the steps of the Blair County Courthouse from 11:30-12:30 pm on Friday, October 4.

As for what individuals can do to slow climate change, Wallace mentioned ways ranging from simply not taking a straw at lunch to organizing climate strikes yourself. The most important point is combating climate change however you can.

“Fight climate change in your own way,” said Wallace.