March 15 marked the largest global strike in history when over 1 million youth missed school in order to protest for climate action. While youth across the world have been advocating for the end of humanity’s impact on climate change for many years, the Youth Strike For Climate Action movement has been the largest effort yet.
The groundwork for this movement was laid in 2015 when around 50,000 people participated in a strike for the climate in 100 countries. This demonstration also called for the youth to play hooky from school, to mark the first day of COP21 (United Nations Climate Change Conference 2015). The 2015 strikes ran on a platform of three major things: keeping fossil fuels buried in the earth, pushing for governmental action towards 100% renewable energy, and providing assistance for climate refugees.
The most recent strikes began with Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, in August 2018. She skipped school and stood outside of the Swedish government with a poster that read “skolstrejk för klimatet,” ( “school-strike for climate”). A video of her speaking went viral with the quote, “I want you to act like our house is on fire, because it is.” Following in suit, students around the world began declaring “Fridays for the future,” and they began striking and skipping school every Friday. The movement grew rapidly as thousands of youths in countries such as Denmark, Germany, Japan, Australia, Switzerland, and the UK began to strike on a regular basis. In Australia, many adults joined the children, striking from their own job days. With the growing support for the movement, the goal became organizing a global strike on March 15th.
On March 15th, an estimated 1.6 million people participated in the strike, in over 2,000 locations and 125 countries, according to the Fridays for the future website: fridaysforfuture.org. This included a protest on the continent of Antarctica, a place without schools. In the UK and Germany, teens urged their politicians to lower the voting age to 16 so that the vote could be representative of them. In the USA students in 35 states joined the movement. Their demands, as listed on the official USA Youth Strike For Climate website, included the implementation of the Green New Deal which would support marginalized communities affected by climate change, lead to 100% renewable energy by 2030, and reduce the use of fossil fuels. Other demands included the calling of a national emergency on climate change, mandatory education on climate change in K-8 grades, preservation of the environment and water, government decisions based on recent scientific research, and the halting of fossil fuel infrastructure projects. The USA climate strike platform emphasizes the need to protect underprivileged communities as they are more frequently impacted by climate and environmental crises.
Sonoma County teens and children were amongst these strikers, and an estimated 120 people gathered at the rally held in Sebastopol. Teens sporting creative signs gathered in the town square after Analy High students walked out of class at noon. Speakers at the event cracked down on Senator Feinstein who does not support the Green New Deal and is our only local representative not to do so. In response to this, teens took out their cell phones during the rally to call her and urge her to support the bill. A table on the side offered Guayakis in exchange for the writing of a postcard to a representative.
The pressure on governments and organizations has already had an impact. The UN has given their support to the school strikes. Politicians such as Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Kamala Harris are a few US leaders who have openly supported the movement. In many places, local governments have begun to take action. In Santa Rosa, teen climate activists have influenced the city council’s decision to make the implementation of a climate action plan a Tier 1 issue.
With the first major global strike out of the way, the fight for climate action is not yet over. I talked with 17-year-old Feliquan Charlemagne, the national creative director of US Youth Climate Strikes, about what is next for the movement. As an immigrant from St. Thomas, a US Virgin island regularly impacted by climate-related catastrophes, this movement has greater personal meaning for him. The next step seems to be to continue to spread awareness about climate change and climate action throughout our society. Charlemagne stated the importance of voters thoroughly looking into candidates’ positions to make sure they are being proactive about climate change. He believes that it is the responsibility of educators to ensure that their students are being taught the truth about climate change. When I asked him about adult’s responses to having students strike, he mentioned that some schools have made the strikes a field trip so that students can stand for their future without reprimands. He cannot foresee too many challenges ahead as “the coalition is too big to stop.” He believes that teens should continue to strike and says, “we will until we have transformative action.”
For those who cannot strike every Friday but wish to support, you can do so by wearing green on Fridays and calling your legislators as well as asking local politicians to take action. The next big step is the May 3rd strike in North America; with planning already in the works, hopes are that it will have an even higher turnout than March 15th. The efforts will continue until legislature is in place that will ensure action against to protect the climate and the future of the Earth for all humanity.