Thousands of teens have been striking across Europe for months. Tomorrow’s big event could fuel the movement in the US.
Kids around the US and the globe are ditching school on Friday to call out adults for not doing enough on climate change.
“When you don’t have anything other than your voice, you have to use it,” Haven Coleman, a 12-year-old striker in Denver told BuzzFeed News. “We have to fight for our future because adults aren’t doing anything.”
The growing global movement started as a solo effort. Greta Thunberg, a teenager with Asperger’s syndrome who often wears pigtail braids, first protested Aug. 20, 2018, outside the Swedish parliament building in Stockholm, handing out flyers with climate facts on them, and then kept coming back. But it was only after she addressed climate officials gathered in Poland last December in a blunt and biting speech that her #FridaysForFuture campaign went mainstream, drawing massive crowds in the streets of London, Hamburg, Brussels, and more.
“You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes,” Thunberg said in Poland. “Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what’s politically possible, there is no hope. We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis.”
This week is set to bring the biggest strikes yet, with possibly hundreds of thousands of people protesting in more than 100 countries. Thunberg will be in Stockholm, according to her spokesperson.
The movement has not yet taken off in the US as it has in Europe. But that’s poised to change this week, with more than 150 events planned across the country, including in big cities like Washington, DC, New York City, and San Francisco.
Like Thunberg’s solitary start, Coleman has been striking mostly by herself every Friday this year around Denver, from a hospital to a Home Depot to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. With her mom driving her around, Coleman alternates each week between protesting in the morning for about an hour before school (often missing part of her homeroom class) or in the middle of the day during lunch (and missing the start of her Spanish class).
Inspired after learning about deforestation in school, Coleman participated in a 2017 activism training run by the Climate Reality Project, Al Gore’s organization. Coleman has since spoken to several local elementary school classes about global warming.
When Coleman’s mom told her about Thunberg’s striking, she decided to try it out too. Now she’s hooked. Her birthday is at the end of this month and falls on a Friday. “I’m just going to have a big ol’ birthday strike,” she said. “You can see how activism is my whole life.”
In her quest to make the global strike day big in the US, she sought help from 16-year-old Isra Hirsi, a Minnesota-based activist and Rep. Ilhan Omar’s daughter, and they connected with 13-year-old Alexandria Villasenor of New York City. The trio formed US Youth Climate Strike, the main social media mouthpiece behind this week’s US protests. “Just because I can’t vote yet, I’m not going to sit idly by,” Hirsi told BuzzFeed News.
The girls talk often by phone and on Slack, and have connected with hundreds of others on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. They’ve also found help from established environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the Climate Reality Project, and the March for Science.
Unsurprisingly, this youth movement overlaps with the activists backing the Green New Deal, a proposal introduced in Congress for tackling climate change, boosting the economy, and combating injustice, made famous after getting support from New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. So far this campaign has been supported by several Democratic presidential contenders and mocked by President Donald Trump.
“We are sharing this movement — youth taking back power,” Lauren Maunus, a 21-year-old organizer of the Sunrise Movement, which rallied behind the Green New Deal after the midterm elections. Maunus plans to strike with teens in Providence on Friday. “We need leaders to take this crisis as seriously as we are.”
Both Coleman and Hirsi are striking in the nation’s capital, while Villasenor is keeping her routine of striking on a bench outside the United Nations building. Students in New York City are planning walkouts midday at local schools, such as the Bronx High School of Science, Sarah Lawrence College, Columbia University, and New York University.
Democratic presidential contender Jay Inslee, who is running a climate-focused campaign, plans to attend the Columbia strike, according to his spokesperson Jamal Raad.
In Annapolis, Maryland, there will be “climate games,” 15-year-old Kallan Benson told BuzzFeed News in an email, “including hopscotch showing the increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations, hula hoops to show leaders they are going in circles, and bubbles to burst the arguments of denial.”
Benson has been taking a different approach to her activism, engaging in what she called a “silent strike” — speaking a little to family at home, but nowhere else — for several months. “When you’re not speaking, you start to truly listen to others and learn where others are coming from,” she said.
On the other side of the country, students in San Francisco will protest in support of the Green New Deal at the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. A handful of protestors, including 17-year-old Luci Paczkowski, will meet with Pelosi’s staff to talk about climate change policy. (Last month, young activists failed to convince Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, to support the Green New Deal in a tense interaction that went viral.)
“I feel like it’s especially powerful when a group of kids get up together and say ‘Hey, this isn’t right’,” said Paczkowski (whose father is John Paczkowski, the technology and business editor at BuzzFeed News). “I’m still going through school, and maturing as a person, [but] I still believe that my voice is valid and you need to keep me in mind and protect my public trust.”
Even more kids are planning to gather outside Los Angeles City Hall. This includes regular striking brothers, 12-year-old Braird Kunde-Kalmus and 10-year-old Zane, who are departing from their normal routine of handing out blue arm bands at their school’s gates every morning before classes start.
Their dad, Peter Kalmus, is a climate scientist who helped start an open letter supporting the strikes that’s been signed by more than 100 other scientists.
“It is their lives that will be most profoundly impacted by the impacts of a changing climate,” Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist who signed the letter, told BuzzFeed News by email, “so they, more than any of us, deserve answers — and action.”
Rep. Ilhan Omar’s name was misstated in a previous version of this post.
This story has been updated to note that Democratic presidential contender Jay Inslee will be attending one of the climate strikes.