Friday was the day the climate strike officially went global, and the day it found a new home in the US. There were more than 400 events around the US, but the epicentre was New York, where the movement found its first roots in the country.
After walkouts across the city, students converged on Columbus Circle on Friday afternoon, under the black-sheathed windows of Trump Hotel on the edge of Central Park. Organisers estimate 10,000 strikers showed up, clinging to statues and chanting everything from “we vote next” to “fuck Donald Trump” to “money won’t matter when we’re dead”.
It’s safe to say this isn’t your grandfather’s climate movement, and the electric energy on the balmy 20C day isn’t likely to dissipate.
“We have the power to change [the future] and we’re not,” Diego, a student at the Bronx Academy for Software Engineering draped in the Puerto Rican flag, told us. “When we do that, we’re being wilfully ignorant. We are creating a future that we don’t want to live in but that we can’t live in.”
Though he wasn’t born there, his family is from Puerto Rico and Diego said he wanted to represent those who lost their lives in Hurricane Maria. The storm was among the deadliest in modern American history and caused one of the longest blackouts the world has ever seen.
Supercharged hurricanes are among the most dramatic direct impacts society faces from climate change, but students were also there because of the great unravelling underway.
Grace, a student at Beacon High School, told us she was concerned about biodiversity loss, citing recent studies about disappearing insect habitat and species loss as part of the sixth mass extinction underway.
The manmade system of capitalism and its reliance on fossil fuels to drive growth are the prime drivers of climate change. The injustice of that system and the future it’s creating are on the forefront of strikers minds.
“They don’t want to face the facts – we need to change the system if we are to try to act on the climate crisis,” strike organisers, including Greta Thunberg who sparked the movement and Alexandria Villasenor who has driven it in the US, wrote in an op-ed for The Guardian on Friday.
What system change looks like remains to be seen. There were chants for the Green New Deal that echoed off the the stately apartments of Central Park West as strikers headed toward the American Museum of Natural History 20 blocks north, but the strike movement hasn’t endorsed it as a policy.
Nevertheless, some politicians appear aware that the seeds of a radical political movement are emerging in the US. Washington State Governor and Democratic presidential candidate Jay Inslee spoke at an event at Columbia hosted by the youth activist organisation Sunrise Movement and showed up at the main strike event in solidarity.
“We need them,” he told us. “We needed to inspire the rest of the country to rise to their challenge to not allow their generation to be damaged by those who have gone before.
“I’m with these kids body and soul,” he said despite the fact that many of them in fact won’t be able to vote for him or any candidate in the next election. “And I hope more people are as well.”
All photos by Brian Kahn/Gizmodo Media.