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Allegheny

Young people rally in Pittsburgh for climate protections

Wes Venteicher
| Saturday, July 21, 2018, 3:30 p.m.
Anaïs Peterson, 20, of O'Hara, addresses a crowd of climate marchers Saturday, July 21, 2018 in downtown Pittsburgh.
Wes Venteicher | Tribune-Review
Anaïs Peterson, 20, of O'Hara, addresses a crowd of climate marchers Saturday, July 21, 2018 in downtown Pittsburgh.

Young people led a march Saturday in downtown Pittsburgh calling on elected leaders to protect the environment or face their increasingly organized efforts to vote the officials out of office.

The group of around 70 directed their demands toward U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, Democratic Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Democratic Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald as they marched from the officials’ offices on Grant Street to Mellon Square shortly after noon.

The groups marched and chanted lines such as “Get up, get down, time to shut the fracking down;” “The oceans are rising, and so are we;” and refrains of “Vote them out.”

Then they set up tables in Mellon Square and started registering people to vote.

Krista Lee, 21, a Pitt student who works for NextGen Pittsburgh, said through a megaphone that young people need to make their case for climate protections to “those who won’t be here to experience the consequences of climate change.”

NextGen America, a national group with funding from billionaire investor and Democratic donor Tom Steyer, has been aggressively registering young people to vote.

A recent analysis by Democratic data firm TargetSmart showed Pennsylvania has seen the biggest increase in young people as a percentage of newly registered voters since Feb. 14 among 40 states. The demographic group of 18-to-29-year-olds grew to 61 percent of new registrants from 45 percent in that time, according to the group’s analysis.

Locally, NextGen works events such as Van’s Warped Tour, a traveling punk rock music festival that was held Monday in Burgettstown, where the group collected 1,400 voter pledges, NextGen spokesman Matthew Hatfield said.

Saturday’s march was organized as part of a national Zero Hour movement among young people focused on reducing carbon emissions and bolstering renewable energy sources. Marches took place Saturday in Washington, D.C., and around the country.

Pittsburgh’s march drew protesters as young as 12-year-old Ela Mody and 13-year-old Cece Bird, from outside of Cleveland.

Bird said she started researching climate change after wondering why there wasn’t snow on the ground for her January birthday. Bird and Mody started pressing their local city council to adopt stricter targets for reducing emissions, and say they will continue to speak at public comment periods until the council adopts a resolution in line with the Paris Climate Accord goals.

Anaïs Peterson, 20, a Pitt student who helped organize the march with group 350Pittsburgh, encouraged young people to organize in whatever way they see fit to press for change, resisting what she said were doubts from older people that their social media activism can make a difference.

“Don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re too naïve or too young,” Peterson told the crowd. “… The ways you organize are powerful and they are valuable, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

Peterson said the group’s demands are specific: they want Toomey to support the Environmental Protection Agency and fund climate science; they want Peduto to speak out against the Shell ethane cracker plant being built in Beaver County; and they want Fitzgerald to stop the expansion of fracking in Allegheny County.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Wes at 412-380-5676, wventeicher@tribweb.com or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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