I’ve reported on or otherwise worked in the climate field for 10 years. In that decade, I’ve watched failure after failure at international climate talks, rampant Republican climate denial and climate protests that built to something half-formed, clay tossed on the potter’s wheel but never quite shaped.
A decade into watching the climate crisis unfold and a year into watching youth activism sweep the globe, I feel comfortable saying something feels different right now.
The global strikes on Friday drew an estimated four million people into the streets, including 250,000 in New York alone according to an emailed release from climate advocacy group 350. There have been big marches before, sure, but the energy around this one was different.
The big reason was that teens were the driving force behind it. They’re tragically well positioned to understand the intergenerational injustice they face. Climate change is the weight of past generations being foisted upon their shoulders, and the decisions made by adults today will determine just how much weight they have to bear.
Friday’s strike made that clear, and there was plenty of anger to go around at adults who have done next to nothing on climate change despite knowing the ways it could harm their children.
But the march also brought together families. In some cases, parents brought kids to be a part of it. In many other cases, it was the other way around. That represents a tectonic shift in the climate movement as well. And while the shifting plates of activism don’t guarantee everything turns out fine, they do show the building blocks of a better world.
We spent the day talking with kids and their parents at the New York strikes to gain a glimpse of what’s possible when we work across generations and why parents were at the strike supporting their kids. The answers below have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Maria Ortiz and Victoria
Maria: “I feel like I can’t look her in the eye and tell her I did nothing when she was born.”
Kristin, strike organiser Alexandria Villaseñor’s mum: “The climate crisis is the greatest issue humanity has ever faced. I think that the children are the moral voice of humanity right now. I think that they have it right, and adults need to be here backing them up.
“My message to other parents [about whether to support their children] is to say yes.”
Jenna Roche, Tatum Roche and Madison Encinia
Tatum, Jenna’s daughter: “Once you believe, the rest follows. Once you believe strongly, there’s nothing that can stop us from saving the planet.”
Madison, Tatum’s friend: “My mum tells me a lot about climate change and how we can help support climate activists. When Tatum told me they were going to a march, I was like, ‘Oh, I want to go.’”
Jenna, Tatum’s mum: “Our generation has proven, we can’t do this. We do not have enough people in the parents generation to get behind this cause and make something happen. And children are ignited. They have a huge stake in this. It’s our responsibility to really respect that mindset and really give them the wings that they need to take this planet back.”
Chris Salata and Donette Van Cleve
Chris, Donette’s son: “I think in most lenses, I’m the black sheep of my family. I know that what we’re doing is leading to some really beautiful things. I’m doing things that I think even if they’re not seen have very important benefits, and I feel much more supported having my mum here.”
Donette: “I’m a very traditional mother. I’ve grown up in a very traditional lifestyle, and this is completely new thinking. But I believe that we need visionaries, we need people that have, you know, that are looking ahead, that aren’t just focused on just this moment, so I’m really proud of him.”
Kristian Nammack, Zayne Cowie and Solomon Beckler
Kristian, “eco dad” but not related to Zayne or Solomon: “This is a youth march, and so I’m trying to take the backseat and just trying to be supportive. I’m thinking of myself as like an eco dad. I’m not their dad but just a general eco dad. I have a bag full of snacks, water, sunscreen and Band-Aids. And I’m trying to take the back seat and facilitate them doing their thing.”
Zayne, climate striker and Greta Thunberg protector: “You have snacks?”
[after passing on a Kind bar] “I’m not a planner, but all I know is I definitely would not have a bunch of speeches. It’s boring right now because it wasn’t actually organised by the youth.”
Solomon, climate striker: [in response to what he would tell parents if their kids asked to strike] “Let them.”