Just a month into the school year and virtually every student across the world is asking themselves the same question: can youth protest really make an impact on the climate crisis? Dedicated activists of the movement fiercely argue yes, whereas others believe that students can strike all they want, but ultimately the people in power dictate our fate, and they aren’t listening. This worry encapsulates a primary concern young people have with respect to the climate movement, and is one of the deciding factors on attending events such as the September 20th climate strike. If we cannot vote, how can we have control in politics? Which will benefit my future more; making a protest sign or doing homework? If my teacher will count it as an absence, is it worth it? I’m just one person, how can I make a difference? If the answers to all of these questions are “no, I cannot make change,” then how come an estimated four million people from 125 countries marched on September 20th? What was in it for them and why did they think their words could effectuate change?
In this era, young activists have been the catalyst for change. The March for Our Lives movement demonstrated how youth leaders of change can affect politics, similar to the youth climate movement. Prior to the March for Our Lives movement, states such as Florida had some of the weakest gun laws, but youth protesters were diligent in making politicians hear their voices. Not only did these youth activists change the conversation about guns, but they convinced their home state of Florida to take action for gun safety, passing 67 total gun safety bills. The March for Our Lives movement may be one example, but it is proof that modern day youth protests will not be silenced in the face of policies and adults, and the climate movement is a continuation of this.
The climate movement has given way to strong youth leaders to control the conversation and make their voices heard. Xiye Bastida-Patrick is a senior at Beacon High School who has been a powerful voice who has inspired others. She described her first experience speaking out against climate change as a revelation in how she can change lives: “When I realized that the things I said as a young person actually affected others’ perception and habits, I realized that I needed to use that voice to enact change.” She hopes that from this change others can grow an inspiration and passion for activism, just as she herself has: “I think that the beautiful thing about this movement is that we can inspire people to become activists. I was inspired by my parents, and I know that I have inspired others.”
When I asked her what she would tell youth who are unsure of the power of their voice she said she would respond by saying that “Because of our strike on May 3rd New York City declared a climate emergency [….].” What is special about this movement is that is specific to youth because it affects our future, and we strike to tell the government that changes need to be made in the core systems of our society. Xiye argues that “we are not telling governments and industries that we are striking because we don’t want straws anymore.” We are striking because no one else will, and our future is in our own hands.
In August of 2018 a 15 year old girl from Sweden sat alone outside of Swedish parliament during school and demanded the government hear her words. A little over a year later she spoke to world leaders in New York City at the UN Climate Action Summit; and her words will echo forever into history: “You are failing us. [….] And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this.” Greta Thunberg is one out of millions of youth across the world who have put their education at risk to march for our home. If the politicians won’t fight for it it is our duty to make them fight. Our youth is not a hindrance, rather it is a strength, and as Xiye said, “When youth speak up to protect our rights, it’s because we’re right[….]” From the March for Our Lives Movement movement to the climate march, youth are taking charge across the world, and if we all recognize that our voice matters and that protesting has an impact, then the world will be forced to listen.
- Barclay, Eliza. Resnick, Brian. “How Big Was the Global Climate Strike? 4 Million People, Activists Estimate.” Vox, Vox Media, September 22, 2019.
- “Transcript: Greta Thunberg’s Speech at the U.N. Climate Summit.” NPR, @2019 NPR, September 23rd, 2019.
- Hauck, Grace. “Friday’s Global Climate Strike Was Likely the Largest Climate Rally Ever.” USA Today, @2019 USA Today, September 21, 2019.