Being in the streets of New York City with a quarter million people for the Global Climate Strike was an inspiring experience for me. There were so many people! (4 million around the world all on the same day!) Young people led the march, the rally, and the organizing leading up to it. People of all races walked and talked together, sharing a common commitment to bold action to stop climate change. Despite the seriousness of the crisis faced by humanity, there was joy in taking action together.
The group that I was a part of had banners that stretched all the way across the street – Sustaining All Life, United to End Racism, Youth for Justice and Social Change, Migrant Workers Association. We were led by a dynamic Filipina woman who kept us well organized and upbeat. Our chant leader led us in “hey hey, ho ho, climate change has got to go.” Our drummers energized us. Behind them was a group of young people stretching out a parachute and bouncing balls on it. Signs were everywhere: There is No Planet B, Protect Indigenous Land Rights, Join the Global Effort – U.S. back in Climate Talks. There was a relaxed awareness that these issues are all connected and a confidence that we are all in this together.
Conversations With People From Around the World
I stayed in NYC following the September 20th global strike day for Climate Week. There were scores of workshops, forums, listening projects, and meetings. I was particularly moved by getting to have conversations with people from many different countries. A diplomat from Kenya in New York for the United Nations meetings told me about how rains that have been reliable for hundreds of years now come at the wrong times, disrupting agriculture and causing food shortages.
A woman from the island nation of Fiji described what it’s like to have the ocean rising year after year, while also absorbing immigrants from other islands that are becoming uninhabitable. A man who is a government official in Latin America, attending the UN meetings, shared some of the frustrations of trying to get the wealthy developed nations to do their share in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A tall, young Somali woman, a former basketball player, talked about how men still resist women having as much power as men and how that results in women and girls bearing more of the suffering resulting from climate change.
Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old Swedish girl who started the School Strike for Climate, was part of the march and rally on September 20th. A few days later she addressed the UN Climate Action Summit. Getting to see her amazing speech that night on TV thrilled me, troubled me, and is still reverberating for me. If you haven’t seen her 4 1/2 minute speech, please click here to see it. If you’ve already seen it, I encourage you to watch it again and sometime today or tomorrow have a conversation with someone about it. She was asked, “What is your message for world leaders?” This is her answer.
I came away from my experiences in NYC with several key ideas:
- We who care about climate change are not alone. There are millions of us of all races and ages all over the world.
- Young people are leading us. We dare not ignore their call to action.
- Everyone is needed.
If you participated in the Global Strike in some way, I encourage you to be pleased with yourself … then decide on your next step. If you were not part of the actions in late September, it’s not too late. But it’s time to raise your voice. Write or call your local, state and/or federal representatives. Even if all you say is that you want bolder action on climate change, you will be part of the growing movement to put people and all living things ahead of profits. We can unite and, with Greta, insist that “business as usual” will not solve the climate emergency that confronts all of humankind.
Russ Vernon Jones blogs regularly on climate justice at www.RussVernonJones.org .