'We Will Make Them Hear Us'

Students skipping school turned out in force to participate in the movement to combat climate change

23 Sep 2019 | 12:28

Thousands of young people flooded the streets of Lower Manhattan Friday afternoon, chanting and waving protest signs, all to be seen and heard by the people who they said could actually do something to combat the devastating effects of an impending climate catastrophe.

At this point, it’s all they felt they could do.

“We don’t have votes yet,” said 13-year-old Brooklyn resident April Carlioz. “We can be as eco-friendly as we want, but then we need to inspire the people who can make direct, political change to vote with us and to vote for a future for humanity.”

It was that sentiment that was repeated over and over by the students who missed school last week to participate in the global climate strike that galvanized millions of young people in the United States and around the world to demand change from political leaders. The students, of all ages, from elementary school to college and estimated by organizers to be as many as 250,000 in number, emphasized the need for those in power to take notice and to act.

No one spoke as clearly or powerfully on that point as Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who has been the driving force behind the youth movement to combat climate change. In a speech following a march from Foley Square to Battery Park, Thunberg said the world leaders gathering in New York for the United Nations Climate Action Summit on Monday had a chance to prove that they too are united behind the science and reports that show the need for drastic action in the next 10 years to lower global carbon emissions.

“We have not taken to the streets — sacrificing our education — for the adults and politicians to take selfies with us and tell us that they really, really admire what we do,” Thunberg said before a sea of protesters. “They have a chance to take leadership to prove that they actually hear us.

“Do you think they hear us?” Thunberg posed to the roaring crowd. “We will make them hear us.”

"It's Hot in Here!"

It was clear from the passion of the students on hand Friday that the event was not simply an opportunity to skip school. They were tireless in their chanting, often breaking out into the pep rally-style cheer “Oh, it’s hot in here! There must be some carbon in the atmosphere!” They raised their signs above the crowd. Many read “There is no planet B.” Some invoked Internet memes. Others were simple and clear in their message: “Denial is deadly.”

For 19-year-old Louis Roberts, climate change has become a daily anxiety. He said he’s been worried of what the future might look like since he was as young as seven.

“When I was able to get a good grasp on it I was terrified,” said Roberts, who is studying at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs. “Now, trying to build a future in something that seems so uncertain is very anxiety inducing.”

Roberts said there needs to be absolute change across the board, including politically and economically.

“That’s my sign, right?” he said with a laugh, holding up his sign that read “Compost the rich.”

A Collective Impact

Lila Patterson, a 15-year-old student who made the trip from Westchester, said the recent climate disasters, including the recent fires in the Amazon, have made it undeniable that climate change is affecting everyone around the world.

“I think it’s important that we all get involved and help in demonstrating our support to combat this terrible issue,” Patterson said. “It makes me feel frustrated. Some people treat it as though it’s inevitable and it’s not. There are things that we can do about it, we’re just not doing it.”

Patterson’s classmate, Russell Whol, said he hoped that with so many rallies across the country, collectively they could make an impact.

“I really hope that some politicians out there will take to the Senate and start really fighting for change because we need that spark in our government,” the 16-year-old said. “And we’re the match that needs to give the government that flame.”

Hope and Catharsis

For 13-year-old Carlioz and her friends, it’s been a difficult issue to wrap their heads around and grapple with as they learned more about climate change.

“Although I know it doesn’t seem it right now, the world is in a crisis and it’s going to increasingly have an impact on us,” said Siri Uman, a 12-year-old from Brooklyn.

Carlioz agreed.

“Last year we did a whole unit on the future and climate change in science class,” she said. It’s when I started hearing the hard facts and reading UN reports that I knew that it’s not this distant thing and we’re seeing effects right now. It’s something that’s going to affect us.”

But being together, with so many others, all fighting for the same cause, gave them hope and catharsis.

“Literally seeing people in this large of numbers makes me think someone who can actually do something is listening,” she said. “This is the people’s government. We’re a democracy. So at some point the government has to do what the people want it to do. The more people we gather the more they have to listen.”

"We need to inspire the people who can make direct, political change to vote with us and to vote for a future for humanity.” April Carlioz, 13-year-old Brooklyn resident