Youth Climate Strike Pressing Government Leaders for Urgent Action on Climate Change

Interview with Kira Orteleva, lead organizer with the Youth Climate Strike in Connecticut, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

On March 15 , more than a million students walked out of classrooms around the world calling for emergency action to respond to the climate crisis. They took their cue from teenage Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg, who began a one-person school strike last year, protesting every Friday outside the Parliament building in Stockholm. She has since spoken to world leaders in several venues, stating plainly what is at stake for her generation and trying to shame them into action.
The statewide event in Connecticut took place outside the Capitol building in Hartford, featuring mostly youth activist speakers – black, white and Latino – who promoted generational, class and racial climate justice. They talked, for example, about the need to reduce toxic pollution from fossil-fueled power plants that affect low-income people and people of color the most, and which also contributes to climate change.
Several of the young people interviewed said their parents and school officials weren’t crazy about the school strike, but many parents ultimately supported their children and some joined them on the 15. After the speeches, participants lined up on both sides of Capitol Avenue with banners and signs, where they chanted and drew supportive horn honks and thumbs up from more passing cars. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Kira Orteleva, a senior at a suburban New Haven high school and lead organizer on the state’s Youth Climate Strike. Here she explains how she became active on the climate issue and next steps in the campaign for climate action.

KIRA ORTELEVA: We coordinate at least once a month. We talk to each other; we have a special group chat for everyone who’s a state leader and a national leader as well.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What do you think about the action? Actually, it’s a beautiful day; it’s warm and it’s not raining.

KIRA ORTELEVA: Yeah, I thought there were going to be a lot of thunderstorms today, so I was looking for tents to set up and I couldn’t find any, so I was a little worried, but the weather is working with us today.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Tell me how you got involved and what messages you want to convey.

KIRA ORTELEVA: So, getting involved in the U.S. Youth Climate Strikes, I contacted Haven Coleman, who is one of the co-national leaders. I contacted her over Instagram after seeing her climate strike photos, and I wanted to work with her, and this was before the Youth Climate Strikes began. She ended up adding me to the group, and I was the first person from Connecticut, so I became a state leader and that’s how I joined. The outcome is we are calling for a Green New Deal, we’re calling for legislative action. Having these strikes all over the world, all over these countries, we hope that world leaders will take a look at us and hear what we’re saying.

BETWEEN THE LINES: When you spoke before you mentioned a lot of demands that I’d love for you to be able to share as many as you can, without notes, if you can.

KIRA ORTELEVA: So, we’re calling for the Green New Deal. We want to end all infrastructure projects for fossil fuel; we want to keep our water supply clean; we want to preserve wildlife and public lands as well, and we want a healthy transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

BETWEEN THE LINES: When you say you want a Green New Deal, do you mean in Connecticut or nationally, or both?


BETWEEN THE LINES: I was in a meeting with a bunch of climate activist with a state legislator who is a climate activist, and people were talking about different options.


If you could talk to – or maybe you will – talk to legislators here in Hartford. The Green New Deal bill was introduced on the first day of the session, but there’s nothing in it; it’s just a placeholder. So, people are talking about what should be in it; and all those demands you just mentioned, do you think they should be in it?

KIRA ORTELEVA: Absolutely. I think the Green New Deal should be the first step in tackling climate change head-on, because we are at the point in our lives where it’s becoming a very serious problem, and by 2040 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

BETWEEN THE LINES: This is a pretty lively demonstration, and I think at some point people are going to be lobbying members of the legislature here. What other kinds of actions do you think are necessary that are commensurate with the level of the problem?

KIRA ORTELEVA: So, economics is a big part of this because we, as citizens, we are consumers, and we buy from the companies that are contributing the biggest to climate change. Now, these companies such as Quaker Oats, Charmin, Exxon, all of these companies, mostly gas companies as well – they’re fracking, they’re contributing to deforestation, and they’re taking away animals’ homes, and it’s one of the leading causes in why some animals are going extinct or endangered. So, changing your lifestyle is a very, very big way to help climate change.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What do you mean by that?

KIRA ORTELEVA: Well, we as Americans, we have an everyday thing where we go to Dunkin’. Dunkin’ has a saying, “America runs on Dunkin’.” Now, the unfortunate part about it is that some people will actually recycle their Dunkin’ cups. Now, this is just an example. But you cannot actually recycle the lids and the straws of the Dunkin’ cups, and they need to be washed out before they are recycled. And a lot of people don’t understand this, and this is what causes the problems in recycling companies because if there’s any piece of food in your recycling bin, it contaminates the entire bin, and a lot of people don’t understand or know that.

BETWEEN THE LINES: That’s why for years I’ve been carrying a reusable mug, and I’ve saved thousands of cups from going into the waste stream, and it keeps the coffee hotter, too. There’s no down side that I can see. So what would you say is the next step after this? And you’re probably going to be checking soon on how things have gone all over the country, right?

KIRA ORTELEVA: Yes, absolutely, I’ll be hopping onto my national group chat in a bit. But first step that we’re going to take after the strike, is my co-leads and I and anyone else who would like to join to support, we’re going to be lobbying some bills, and we’re going to try to put them in motion, as well as the Green New Deal, and our next Youth Climate Strike will be held on May 3.

For more information on the Youth Climate Strike, visit

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