BY ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH| Thousands of young people filled the streets of Lower Manhattan to call on those in power to take action on climate change, before it’s too late.
“This is an emergency; our house is on fire,” climate change activist Greta Thunberg told a crowd of strikers at Battery Park where the climate strike march ended. “We will not just stand aside and watch.”
Strikers first gathered in a packed Foley Square; WABC-TV reported more than 60,000 people participated in the march. Last week, the New York City Department of Education announced that public school students would receive an excused absence for attending the strike.
The plaza in front of nearby courthouses was a sea of signs Friday reading “protect our mother” and “there is no Planet B.” Young people chanted “This is what democracy looks like!” and “The sea is rising and so are we!” as they waited to hear from members of the Youth Climate Strike Coalition, which organized the protest.
Members spoke to the crowd about the urgency to mitigate the effects of climate change, the importance of respecting indigenous and front line communities, in the fight for climate justice. One of the speakers, 13-year-old Marisol Rivera, spoke about her journey to join the climate strike because of Hurricanes Sandy and Maria.
Scientists say climate change increased the storms’ strength.
Seven years ago, Rivera’s home in Brooklyn was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. “I remember turning around and seeing a huge amount of water fall onto my bed,” Rivera recalled.
Five years later, when Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Dominica and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Rivera was forced to relive that trauma again when family members’ homes were flooded and a close family friend died in the storm.
As fate would have it, the strike took place on the two-year anniversary of Maria, which left 3,000 dead on the island.
“You never think that you are going to be the type of person that is hit by all these disasters … it’s the kind of stuff you watch on TV,” said Rivera. “But the ugly reality is that the crisis will effect everyone.”
Speakers also reiterated the strikers’ three demands: Ending fossil fuel consumption, prioritizing front line communities in fully transitioning to renewable energy, and holding government officials along with businesses and other institutions of power accountable for the effects of climate change.
Chanting protesters then marched from Foley Square area down Broadway to the Battery. There, protesters heard other activists, songs and climate activists including Jaden and Willow Smith (the children of actor Will Smith) and most importantly Thunberg.
Many of the strikers cited Thunberg’s efforts in her native Sweden that catalyzed their own climate change activism. They say she made them believe in the power of the individual to enact change.
At Battery Park, Thunberg called on the United Nations to listen to what young people, whose futures are more affected rising global temperatures, are demanding. According to Thunberg, global leaders have a chance during the climate summit to prove their solidarity with the young climate strikers rather than pay them lip service. For Thunberg and others it is a matter of survival for them and the planet.
“Do you think they hear us?” Thunberg asked the crowd as she stood in front of a massive screen projecting an image of herself. “We will make them hear us.”