Across the World, Youth Are Striking for Their Right to a Livable Planet

The student-led international Youth Climate Strike movement demands that politicians support the Green New Deal.

Ari Bee

Kendall Greene, an organizer of the Youth Climate Strike in Atlanta, stands in front of the Georgia State Capitol with fellow protesters on March 15. (Jena P. Jones/F2 Photos)

ATLANTA—Gath­ered in the court­yard of a his­toric stone Pres­by­ter­ian church in down­town Atlanta on a Fri­day after­noon, stu­dents rang­ing in age from 5 to 21 are ful­ly aware they’re miss­ing class to be here. But fac­ing them is a ques­tion that is arguably more press­ing than any­thing they’d find on a math test: At their feet is a ban­ner that reads, What will cli­mate change steal from you?”

The March 15 Youth Climate Strike was organized by and for the people who have arguably the biggest stake in this issue: Generation Z.

Pick­ing up mark­ers and paint­brush­es scat­tered around the ban­ner, the stu­dents add their respons­es: My future,” one per­son writes. A home,” writes anoth­er. Say good­bye to your lux­u­ry cruis­es,” anoth­er scrawls. Then they hur­ry back across the street to join more than 120 pro­test­ers on the steps of the state Capi­tol build­ing, where chant­i­ng, drum­ming and cheer­ing erupt as the Youth Cli­mate Strike kicks off.

The March 15 Youth Cli­mate Strike was orga­nized by and for the peo­ple who have arguably the biggest stake in this issue: Gen­er­a­tion Z (those born in 1995 or after). The strike is part of an inter­na­tion­al move­ment of stu­dents, par­ents, work­ers and oth­ers orga­niz­ing ral­lies to pres­sure world lead­ers to address the cli­mate cri­sis. Spear­head­ed by Swedish teenag­er Gre­ta Thun­berg, who orga­nized a three-week-long protest out­side the Swedish par­lia­ment build­ing in 2018, reg­u­lar Fri­day protests now hap­pen in com­mu­ni­ties around the globe, con­nect­ed online by hash­tags like #Kli­mat­Stre­jk, #Fri­daysFor­Future and #Cli­mat­eStrike.

The U.S.-based Youth Cli­mate Strike move­ment seeks to declare cli­mate change a nation­al emer­gency, move the coun­try to 100 per­cent renew­able ener­gy by 2030, cre­ate com­pul­so­ry edu­ca­tion about cli­mate change for grade-school chil­dren and pass the Green New Deal, among oth­er demands.

Kendall Greene, 17, an orga­niz­er of the Atlanta strike, makes trips back and forth from the com­mu­ni­ty art project to the chant­i­ng crowd, encour­ag­ing pro­test­ers to take short breaks to add their thoughts to the banner.

I am deeply moved by the pas­sion­ate kids in Atlanta who care about our plan­et, who are afraid for their futures, of the impacts the cli­mate cri­sis might have on them,” Greene says. I believe in the pow­er of young people.”

In May 2017, the Atlanta City Coun­cil unan­i­mous­ly passed a res­o­lu­tion com­mit­ting to tran­si­tion­ing to 100 per­cent clean ener­gy by 2035 — but Greene wants to see the city move up its goal to 2030, which would put the city in line with recent rec­om­men­da­tions from the Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Pan­el on Cli­mate Change (IPCC) to lim­it glob­al warm­ing to 1.5 degrees Cel­sius (2.7 degrees Fahren­heit) by cut­ting green­house gas emis­sions in half by that year.

Greene also wants the state of Geor­gia to adopt a sim­i­lar com­mit­ment, but she rec­og­nizes there are challenges.

I think about how most of our [state] rep­re­sen­ta­tives are cli­mate change deniers, which is so upset­ting when you look at all these stu­dents that care deeply about the plan­et,” Greene says, ges­tur­ing to the ani­mat­ed crowd behind her.

The stu­dents rec­og­nize the urgency of the sit­u­a­tion. We have 11 years, accord­ing to the Unit­ed Nations IPCC report, to get emis­sions under con­trol,” Mar­garet Iva Ash­ton, 21, tells the crowd. If we do not do that, this is not just a cli­mate cri­sis, this is a human rights crisis.”

Cars pass by, honk­ing in sup­port, as sev­er­al of the orga­niz­ers dis­cuss the sig­nif­i­cant influ­ence of cor­po­rate lob­by­ists on policymaking.

When you take mon­ey from big oil, you are fund­ing the geno­cide that’s cur­rent­ly hap­pen­ing in Yemen and you are killing the plan­et, and it’s not worth it,” says Jo Pen­ning­ton, 17.

When we don’t let young peo­ple engage in these dis­cus­sions, they’re not ready to actu­al­ly par­tic­i­pate in democ­ra­cy when they get old­er,” Pen­ning­ton adds.

For those who live out in the wealth­i­er sub­urbs of Geor­gia, Pen­ning­ton says, There’s no inclu­siv­i­ty there. … They don’t see the actu­al real­i­ties of income inequal­i­ty and how cli­mate change and over-polic­ing are hurt­ing our communities.”

Audrey Nor­ris, 18, the artist behind the ban­ner, says the project is a means toward that end.

You go home, and you kind of for­get. But this is an arti­fact from today that we’re able to keep, that the com­mu­ni­ty is able to keep, that we all made togeth­er,” Nor­ris tells In These Times.

Look­ing ahead, Greene notes that main­tain­ing momen­tum is key.

Check out the Green New Deal, call your rep­re­sen­ta­tives, tell them to sup­port it — even though that’s real­ly dif­fi­cult in Geor­gia,” she says. Nev­er­the­less, Greene remains hopeful.

This is about the plan­et,” she says. This is about us com­ing together.”

Ari Bee is an Atlanta-based free­lancer who can be found on Twit­ter @capitol_REB.
Subscribe and Save 66%

Less than $1.67 an issue