As the lunch bell rang out, 17-year-old Hannah Bahls stood at the flagpole outside her school with a megaphone, telling students to circle up to participate in the second climate action rally at Port …
As the lunch bell rang out, 17-year-old Hannah Bahls stood at the flagpole outside her school with a megaphone, telling students to circle up to participate in the second climate action rally at Port Townsend High School.
Once everyone was together, she handed the megaphone to someone else, giving them a chance to lead the group in a chant. As students marched from the flagpole down Benton Street to the baseball field, Bahls marched in front until others followed and then she marched alongside.
Once on the field, Bahls encouraged the crowd to break into groups to discuss how they could get involved in different areas of climate change impacts or solutions. Those interested in transportation, for instance, had community members from The Recyclery explaining how students could commute to school more sustainably. Nearby, groups coalesced to talk about local politics, food and other issues.
The whole point, Bahls said, was not only to draw attention to the issue and urge those in power to wake up to climate change issues, but also to empower people to make change for themselves by giving them the necessary tools and opportunity.
That’s Bahls’ style. It’s not about her, it’s about everyone else.
It seems to work.
Organized by Bahls and her friend Zinnia Hansen,, the event attracted well over 50 students and community members.
Bahls stood with the marine health group, but listened earnestly as she let someone else lead the discussion.
Bahls is Port Townsend bred, having lived here since she was in diapers. She grew up on downtown streets in the salt spray of the Puget Sound. She’s ridden her bike everywhere from the fort to the port since she was 11. She got her grit in the mud of the Plant-A-Thon, an annual tree-planting project known locally as an often-muddy slog, which her environmental biologist parents started.
Like so many Port Townsend youth before her, Bahls has spent her evenings and weekends ripping ticket stubs and popping popcorn at The Rose Theatre, where owner Rocky Friedman said she was one of his best and most responsible employees, a natural leader who brightens every room she’s in.
In a college letter of recommendation, community chef and educator Sidonie Maroon, Bahls’ mentor, credits Hannah with remarkable emotional and social intelligence. Bahls’ has the ability to draw out others stories and personalities she said.
She’s known as The Activist, being involved in the organization of the Port Townsend Women’s March, the Poetic Justice Theatre Ensemble and the climate change strike from school this past March which saw students skip school in solidarity with thousands of other students nationwide.
But Bahls doesn’t love the spotlight, it’s just a necessary part of her larger goal, to build others up and give them the tools they need to help themselves.
Climate change is a personal, not political, issue, Bahls said. And it’s one that she and millions of other teens across the nation think needs immediate action.
“It’s not about Democrat or Republican,” Bahls said. “I want to have the ability to live a livable life without having to flee from natural disaster and be able to breathe and drink clean water and I don’t think that is a possibility at this speed unless we actually do something now”
A common theme among people who interact with Bahls, is the description of her as being so mature and wise for her years that they often forget she’s 17.
Bahls thinks the national climate action movement has been challenging adults to view kids in a different way. Teenagers can’t vote, yet they will be the ones to feel the worst effects of climate change, she says, so why aren’t they an authority on the issue?
“I think this movement is waking people up to the fact that students and teenagers and middle schoolers are really capable and we have good ideas,” Bahls said. “If I have to wait until I’m 35 to make change it will be too late. Doing nothing is doing something”
In August, Bahls will be heading to UC Berkeley. To study what? She doesn’t know yet. Maybe radio journalism or anthropology or education or spanish or an interesting major she heard about called Peace and Conflict.