Gizmodo's U.S. team worked with student journalists to cover the weekend's climate strikes. This story is part of a series of pieces showing the strike through their eyes.
NEW YORK, NY — Picking up where climate strikes around the world left off, young people began to chant, “You had a future, and so should we,” followed by, “We vote next,” as they filled up Foley Square and the streets surrounding City Hall.
Taking pen to paper and marker to cardboard, they created signs with messages of sarcasm mixed with the harsh realities of their future. The students raised the signs above them as they marched towards Battery Park (a smattering of slogans included “This planet is getting hotter than my imaginary boyfriend,” “I’m skipping my lessons to teach you one,” and “My sister is afraid to have children”).
Worried about their futures no longer existing in the midst of rising global temperatures and limited political action from officials, thousands of young people made their way through Downtown Manhattan, demanding climate justice.
Youth climate leaders and other organisers for the New York City climate strike created a list of three core demands they have for elected officials and institutions around the world. These include shutting down fossil fuels, a shift in direction to 100 per cent renewable energy, and holding those who pollute accountable. Those are broadly in line with the demands put forward by global strikers.
Approximately four million protestors in over 150 countries swarmed into their streets and marched in one of the largest youth-led demonstrations in the world. Other strikes in major cities like Berlin, London, and Melbourne drew an estimated 100,000 participants. Even websites and companies alike shut down business in support of the global climate strikes.
Given these demands and monumental turnout, young people are sending a message just in time for the United Nations’ Climate Action Summit on Monday in New York, where world leaders will convene to discuss their next steps to address climate change.
Many of the young participants were students who were granted permission to take the day off and attend the rally. Last week, the city’s Department of Education announced it would excuse any students’ absence as long as they received their parents’ permission to take part in the climate strike. In total, this granted access to 1.1 million public school students across the five boroughs.
The march attracted a diverse crowd, from entire classrooms of elementary students, to a protestor dressed up as Spider-Man, to members of the Orchard Alley Community Garden decked out in costumes resembling different elements. The march was a place for friends and siblings to demand action together, and children to bring their parents out and fight for their future.
Megan Lau, 23, came out to the march after learning about it through her sister, Carol, 22, a college student majoring in biology. “I just wanted to be apart of the movement,” Megan told Gizmodo. She even joked about how climate change has gotten introverts like herself so worried that they came out to march, adding that “it’s humbling and unifying” to be surrounded by everyone in attendance.
“When I got here, you could tell it was very peaceful and good vibes all around,” Carol inserted.
Through her own research and conversations with her sister leading up to the climate strike, Megan said that “it has gotten me to think twice about what I can do and minimise my carbon footprint.”
Twilight, a 16-year-old high school student at the Birch Wathen Lenox School, told Gizmodo she attended the march because “I want to have kids, but I don’t want them to grow up in a world of complete chaos.”
Being a young activist and attending protests isn’t anything new for Twilight either. “I was subjected to activism because of my mother when she’d take me to radical protests when I was younger,” she said. “This is actually my first protest without my mother.”
After marching to Battery Park, demonstrators had the opportunity to find a spot in the open field and rest their legs as the young climate leaders and march organisers came out delivered speeches or performances one or two people at a time.
Many of the young climate leaders are apart of the global Fridays for Future movement, in which students walk out of their schools on Fridays to demand their local local political leaders to take direct action in addressing climate change. Greta Thunberg, a 16 year old Swedish climate change activist, started this movement back in August 2018 when she was 15 and landed on U.S. shores earlier this month ahead of the UN climate summit.
“Their complacency is killing me,” Isabella Fallahi, a youth activist from Zero Hour, told Gizmodo about the roles of Democrats and Republicans in taking any climate action. “Both parties are guilty of silence. Politicians don’t simply get a medal for believing in facts.”
Fallahi was not the only one who shared similar frustrations with politicians. Anastasia Sanger, 23, said that “it just seems like so many of the politicians are so dense and nothing is getting through to them.”
In order to change that and go beyond protesting, Sanger and other young people suggested the pressure of calling and emailing your local representatives. Sanger also stressed that voting is vital for anyone over the age of 18.
Before the strike ended in New York, Greta Thunberg addressed the crowd and included a message to world leaders.
“We will rise to the challenge, we will hold those who are the most responsible for this crisis accountable, and we will make the world leaders act. We can and we will. And if you belong to that small group of people who feel threatened by us, then we have some very bad news for you because this is only the beginning. Change is coming whether they like it or not.”
One sign towered above all and translated their message loud and clear at the end of the day.
“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
Michael Izquierdo is a freelance student journalist, while operating as the news editor for his university’s newspaper, The New School Free Press. You can find him on Instagram.