By Avery Kim, 8th Grade
“What do we want?” “Climate Justice!” “When do we want it?” “Now!”
The United States Courthouse looked like a painting against the solid blue-sky backdrop, its columns shrinking as they stretched towards the sun. The stones below our feet trembled from the subways, from the 4 train carting more protesters to City Hall. Recycled cardboard signs were jabbed into the sky.
The amount of people gathered in Foley Square, New York City, for one of the international Fridays-For-Future Climate Strikes left me in awe. Helicopters hovered in the cloudless blue above, and news vans parked diagonally in the streets, blocked on all sides by swarms of people waving signs and shouting.
“What do we want?” “Climate Justice!”
“When do we want it?” “Yesterday!”
It strikes me that so many of the tens of thousands of people there were children or teenagers. Young voices cut their own paths through the air, not only in New York but in over 150 countries–Afghanistan to Nigeria to El Salvador to Thailand–protesting for something we believe the adults of this day aren’t doing enough about. As put by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist who inspired over 7.5 million people to take to the streets in global protest, “I should be back in school, on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope.” It shouldn’t be our responsibility to skip school and support an issue that adults should already be addressing.
Good for you, they said when I told them I was going to miss class because I was going to the climate strike. Have fun!
Congratulations, my dad’s friends at work said when I explained what I was doing in their Manhattan office on a school day.
Congratulations? Like I was a first grader with lopsided pigtails going to a lemonade stand; go have your little project, and we’re proud of you for doing something you think is good, for believing you can change the world. Have fun? It just didn’t make sense to me. It’s not really something to do for fun, protesting for the future we’ve dreamed of before it’s gone. Smiles and “oh, good”s bounced back at me wherever someone found out I was going to the strike. One of Greta Thunberg’s quotes resonates with me when thinking about the responses I received: “I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic…and act as if the house was on fire.”
Our house is on fire. I can’t see the smoke when I look up at the acrylic blue sky above Foley Square, but the air we breathe smells like pollution–cigarette smoke and exhaust and chemicals and subways fumes and helicopters and a thousand other things that clog the sky. Still, our voices ring through the clutter because we don’t want this to be the only air our kids will ever know. We don’t want to lose the taste of dew-kissed morning air, the laughter of trees, the silence of snow. We push hand-painted global warming posters of burning planets up towards the news helicopters: What if we never get to bundle up our kids in velcro scarves and tiny jackets, to watch as they topple into the snow piled three times as high as they are tall, to smile at their sweet breath in the crystal air or hold their numb fingers or kiss their little pink noses? Our house is on fire. It’s our lives being affected; we’re protesting for our world and our futures. What if tigers become a thing of the past, that past that wasn’t really that long ago, that past when we still had some kind of time to preserve the future? I don’t want to wonder why I didn’t do more, why I didn’t scream in the streets, speak out, do everything I could while coral reefs were still live creatures and homes to Tiger Sharks and Butterfly Fish.
“You have stolen my dreams,” Greta Thunberg said to the world at the UN meeting last month. Climate change and society’s actions towards our world, the only Earth we get, challenge my generation’s every shining thought of the future. Imagine your kids accusing you of stealing their futures–would you be bothered? How would you respond? Would you forget in a day? Would you actually believe the words spoken in their small voices, words written on climate strike posters by their small hands? Would you pat their heads and tell them to have fun in New York City?
“What do we want?” The subway shakes the ground under our feet. “Climate Justice!”
“When do we want it?” Helicopters cut up the blue-sky air above us.
Resnick, Brian and Danielle Scruggs. “Photos: What the Youth Climate Strike Looks Like Around the World.” Vox,
September 20, 2019. https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2019/9/20/20875523/youth-climate-
strike-fridays-future-photos-global. October 20, 2019.
Weise, Elizabeth. “ ‘How Dare You?’ Read Greta Thunberg’s Emotional Climate Change Speech to UN and World
Leaders.” USA Today, September 23, 2019. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2019/09/23/greta-
thunberg-tells-un-summit-youth-not-forgive-climate-inaction/2421335001/. October 20, 2019.
“Great Barrier Reef Fish.” Great Barrier Reef, https://greatbarrierreef.com.au/fish/. October 20, 2019.