Over 250,000 people took to the streets of downtown Manhattan Friday in support of the New York City Climate Strike. Many of these protesters were high school students, using their DoE-approved ditch day to march from Foley Square to Battery Park, demand climate reform and listen to activists plead their cases for the planet.
The Department of Education announced earlier this week that students wouldn’t face repercussions for skipping school to protest, and many schools prepared ahead of time to make it easy for students to participate, including issuing permission slips and allowing free passes for late work. The Climate Strike is the first time students have been so widely encouraged to voice their opinions on the public stage.
Bronx Science student Josephine Kinlan, 14, said her parents happily signed the permission slip. “I think that my parents feel proud of the fact that I’m using my right of free speech and civil disobedience to protest against what I feel the government is doing wrong about climate change,” she said.
LaGuardia High School strongly supported students participating in the Climate Strike, a big change from the climate protests earlier this year, during which high schoolers were confined to their classrooms for fear of failing exams. Under the school’s prior principal, Lisa Mars, exams on the days of the strikes forced kids to attend school. Mars was replaced in July, after students protested that she was too focused on academics.
“The problem was in the March strike, the DoE had not given students amnesty, so many teachers put tests on that day,” said LaGuardia student Mairéad O’Neill, 15. “But this time we have excused absences to make up the work, so we don’t have to choose between going out and supporting what we stand for or getting good grades.”
The Climate Strike began with a crowd of protesters walking from Foley Square to Battery Park, with almost everyone holding handmade signs saying things like: “There is no planet B” and “Our house is on fire,” a nod to one of 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg’s impassioned speeches.
Thunberg spoke at Battery Park at the end of the march, saying, “No matter where we are in the world, they leave the burden to us, us teenagers, us children. If no one else will take action, we will.” Thunberg has been instrumental in inspiring youth across the globe to demand political action on global warming, from her speeches to her organized school walkouts, titled “Fridays For Future.”
Josephine Kinlan came specifically to follow in Thunberg’s footsteps, saying that Thunberg has influenced her to research more regarding environmental concerns. “I don’t want to think about the idea of a mass extinction of the human race,” said Kinlan. “But because of Greta Thunberg and people like her, I’ve started to look more into it and realize that it’s not a problem that is unsolvable.”
LaGuardia student Morgan Reichberg feels like every decision people make in their day-to-day lives can make a difference in the climate crisis, and she has made an effort to stay educated on her choices. “Every single voice and choice makes a difference,” she said. “And I feel like it’s so important that we’re here and sharing what we know.”
A few personal choices made by these teens to be as eco-friendly as possible include: adopting a more plant-based diet, reducing the use of air conditioners when possible, thrift shopping, and avoiding single-use plastic. While these adolescents have made significant steps on their own to reduce waste and energy use, they know individual choices alone won’t accomplish all that needs to be done to save the warming earth.
Kinlan feels strongly about sparking institutional change to save the planet, “I think the people who are at the top of our government right now, their priority is their business, their economy and themselves,” she said. “But I think they need to be more selfless and understand that there are so many people on this earth who want to be able to expand our futures, and we don’t want to see the only planet that we have fall into ruins.”
A climate meeting at the NYC United Nations on Monday, September 23 will attempt to address Trump Administration policies including but not limited to: lifting methane emission rules, rolling back on transportation efficiency guidelines, moving away from the Paris Agreement and drilling for oil on public lands.
The call to action made by students at the NYC Climate Strike is only the beginning of the week-long Global Climate Strike, which includes protests in 156 countries and nearly 4 million participants worldwide to date.