In an act of youth-organized resistance that took place all over the world on September 20, strikers left their schools, homes and workplaces to join in making their demands for climate justice heard. More than 300,000 protested in Australia, in what organizers estimate is the largest climate action event in the country’s history. Demonstrators in Bangkok staged a “die-in” near environmental ministry offices. More than 100,000 gathered near German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office in Berlin. In St. Louis, hundreds made their way to City Hall at 10 a.m. to listen to speeches given by elected officials such as Lewis Reed, President of the Board of Alderman, local high school students, including two from Clayton High and religious leaders, before joining a march through downtown St. Louis that echoed with emphatic chants of, “This is what democracy looks like,” “What do we want? Climate justice! When do want it? Now!” and “No more coal! No more oil! Keep our carbon in the soil!”
Among them were a group of CHS students who took the metro downtown after first period. Despite the excessive heat, they agreed that getting the chance to participate in a global movement was an important and impactful experience. The protest gave them an opportunity to fight for a cause with other young people determinedly demanding climate action.
“The protest was a really amazing experience for me. It’s comforting to feel surrounded by people who are passionate about solving the climate crisis, since we live in a society that mainly ignores the issue,” CHS junior Sofia Erlin said.
Erlin became involved in the movement after spending time in nature during summer camp, which gave rise to her interest in the environment. Through social media, she became exposed to the severity of the climate crisis, and it inspired her to do something about it. Others like Erlin have tried to affect change as well; senior Emilio Rosas-Linhard joined the movement after feeling pessimistic about the future of his generation and that of the earth due to climate change. He realized he had to take action.
“I believe that striking is a good first step for a high school student like me. I went to my first climate strike last year, but it was much smaller than the one today. I’m trying to get involved in the Sunrise Movement, a group of young people fighting to stop the climate crisis. Besides that, I do my best to minimize my carbon footprint: using my bike instead of driving, eating less meat, and continuing to educate myself about climate change,” Rosas-Linhard said.
Rosas-Linhard was also one of the high school students who spoke at the strike. In his speech, he asked, “So why are we doing anything? Those in power right now will be long gone before the worst comes. Billionaires, executives, and world leaders who profit off climate-changing activities will be shored up in nice retirement homes by the time things get really bad. But our generation will have to witness it all. Unless radical change to human society worldwide happens right now, this is what the future looks like.”
Many other strikers called for immediate action to solve the climate crisis. Claire Tedder, who helped organize the strike as part of the Sunrise Movement, said, “Now is a crucial time to act, but it’s also the best time for opportunity.”
Intersectionality was another key focus of the strike. Speakers such as Congressional candidate Cori Bush emphasized the interconnectedness of social, racial and environmental justice.
“We all know that climate change directly and disproportionately affects low-income communities and communities of color,” Bush said.
After the strike, CHS student Belle Gage shared a post on her Instagram story that addressed the necessity of focusing on marginalized communities in conversations about the climate crisis.
“Climate justice must fight for racial justice, these are not separate issues,” Gage wrote.
Gage is also planning a CHS walkout on September 27 (the global strike lasts September 20-27).
Something the strike also touched on was the role of capitalism as the root cause of not just the climate crisis, but the other social and economic crises that are linked to it.
When asked what the root issue of the climate crisis is, the strike’s youth action coordinator Brianna Chandler said, “I would have to say greed. It’s just throughout human history, people have been greedy and done unethical things to the environment. […] I think that greed is the root issue.”
Claire Stolz, another one of the high school speakers, also focused on capitalism as the problem in her speech, speaking to the crowd about how climate justice is incompatible with our society’s current capitalist model.
Likewise, other students took to social media to share pictures from the strike and highlight their beliefs on the issue.
“It’s our future. Don’t just talk about it, take action. Awareness isn’t enough and neither is an Instagram story. Stop buying clothing firsthand, eat sustainably sourced and produced food when possible, reduce (if not end) your consumption of animal products, and speak to administration in your community. Individual consumption isn’t everything, but it contributes to a shift in mindset the world desperately needs. We need a Green New Deal,” CHS junior Ella Ferguson wrote in an Instagram post shared after the strike.
Most students cannot vote, but in Erlin’s opinion, even those too young to vote do it everyday. She encourages students to vote for the world they want to live in by being aware of where their money is going and actively choosing which companies to support—one of the small steps she believes people can take to contribute in helping their planet.
“I wish more young people realized the power of their voice and that their individual actions matter. […] The time to act is now and together we can all demand that our world changes so that we still have one,” Erlin said.
Other strikers shared hopeful views on the future of the movement.
“I am hopeful that we will be able to essentially save our planet,” Chandler said. “I see hope on the horizon. Right now it looks grim, but I do see hope on the horizon. And I think that if people push the governments to make change, to make laws that are going to benefit our environment, if we push corporations to stop doing unethical things, we can get to a place where we can save the world, so to speak.”
Myles McCarthy, a CHS senior and speaker at the strike, shared in his speech his opinion on the perspective that it’s too late to reverse the crisis.
“We are facing a scary reality. I can’t lie about that. But it is not hopeless. What we are doing today is the best way to make our voices heard. Everything we do to support this cause is meaningful. Do not doubt that we can change the world.”
The global climate strike was a rallying international call to action by young people who are determined to do exactly that: change the world.