Across the country and the world last Friday, kids and adults marched and rallied in solidarity in a Climate Strike. The NYC Mayors office puts the number of people who marched in Manhattan at 60,000, according to the NTY Times; the organizers say 250,000. This journalist’s estimate puts the numbers far closer to the cities numbers. Thousands of those were New York City school kids, whom the Mayor gave a free pass to missing the day to attend the rally.
Some of the kids arrived in their schools uniform, but the students I chatted with were in street attire and extremely proud and happy to be rallying with tens of thousands of their fellow New Yorkers.
I ran into Margo, Ascher, and Noah at a deli before the rally began. They were nervously chatting about how the day was going to be, wondering if they’d be interviewed as they saw a lot of people with cameras… laughing a moment later when they noticed my cameras on the table next to them.
Margo told me that one of the differences between her generation and a lot of older ones is first and foremost presence. It’s been a long time since students took the lead on environmental issues – and even then it was college students. “I think that we’re here is one thing that we’re doing differently, that we’re trying to make a change, that we’re trying to make people pay attention to their mistakes. I think that we’re really forcing people to take responsibility for their actions and that if we continue to do that, we’ll continue to set ourselves apart from other generations.”
Forcing older generations to publically take responsibility for their actions is one of major different tactics in this youth-led movement. Previous environmental waves have looked solely to the future – not calling for the responsibility of those who got us here. The fact that Boomers are famous for calling Gen Z and Millenials irresponsible, is an irony that doesn’t seem to be lost on them, at least based on the signs.
Unlike a lot of the March for Our Lives activists who were 17 or 18 when they started their campaigns, this one won’t all be at 18 when the 2020 election rolls around. Ascher regretted that he wasn’t old enough to vote but wanted to be here to ‘vote with my actions.’
“So I’m here to vote with my actions because if they’re a man like the Koch brothers, Sean Hannity, Americans for prosperity, just spewing hate and non-factual information all over our media, then we need to fight it with facts and science because we’re the generation that’s really going to be affected by climate change. We’re not the generation that created it, but it’s our problem because we’re the ones that need to live in the future world.”
This generation, I think in part thanks to politics being truly embedded in our pop culture like never before, understands what actions need to be done. Noah closed out the interview with the simple hope – “I hope that we elect a president that really takes on this crisis and handles it appropriately and not just ignoring it like the Trump administration has currently.”
It wasn’t just teens out in the streets of course – there were parents – one from the Maldives with her daughter. She lives in Brooklyn now but worries about physically not having a home to go back to. The Maldives are an island chain in the Pacific Ocean that are slowly being lost to rising sea levels and coral bleaching. She told me “We are the lowest long islands in the world and we will be the first to disappear. And along with us, it’s going to be a 4,000-year-old history that is just going [and] a language that is spoken only by us. And it is very, very, a matter of survival for us.” The tens of thousands in the streets here in NYC gave her hope but she was still worried. “I probably will because I would have no home to go back to if you don’t change some things.”
Generation Z believes that we must act on Climate Change with urgency more than any previous generation. While the unions across the country haven’t been overly fantastic on dealing with the reality of our changing climate (see: Trumka on Dakota access pipeline) the teachers seem to be ready to take the lead. I spoke with Janella Hinds, Vice President of Academic High Schools, who was at the rally with several other UFT (United Federation of Teachers) members. She told me that “We think it is very important for our students to understand the impact of the decisions that big corporations are making on day to day life. And so we want to make sure that that’s incorporated developmentally-appropriate of course, on all levels in our schools.”
I asked her what she thought of students out on the streets fighting to have their voices heard, much like the UAW is as we speak, “It is phenomenal to see the kind of activism that young people are sparking all over the world. And we know that collective action brings about change. It’s the thing that’s brought about change since the dawn of time, right?”
Let’s hope so.