The students’ enthusiastic whoops and clanging bells animated an overcast day in front of the Massachusetts Statehouse. More than 50 protesters, some as young as 9 and wielding hand-drawn posters, gathered May 3 to demand legislators take climate action and back the Green New Deal resolution.
“It’s like missing one day [of school] to try to make sure I have a future,” explained Amalia Hochman, 17. “It’s completely ridiculous for us to be in school studying for something we might not even have.”
Hochman is a junior at Somerville High School and an organizer with Massachusetts Youth Climate Strike, which joined forces with Sunrise Movement, another youth-led political group, to organize the protest. Hochman, who recalled engaging in activism when she was as young as 5 – it was a protest for animal welfare – stood behind the microphone on the Statehouse steps with other youth organizers. A fourth grade class from Graham and Parks School lined up to the side, preparing to lead a chant.
“[Climate change] definitely hits our generation harder because we don’t have the option to pass it off to the next one,” said Hochman. “…People have such a sense of responsibility to protect children, so I think it’s really powerful to have all of us out here, especially some of the younger kids.”
For several in attendance, the fight for bold climate action is personal. Both Massachusetts Youth Climate Strike and Sunrise Movement are led by many not yet old enough to drive cars or cast votes. When state Rep. Nika Elugardo asked “How many of you are 18 yet?” only a few hands poked above the crowd. But age is not seen as an obstacle here; rather, it is a reason to be politically engaged.
“[Climate change] is a big deal, and it needs to come to our attention,” said Christina, 11. She attended the strike with her father, Stephen Scalese, at her side.
Christina explained, “My dad is the first person who introduced me to [climate change] and how bad it can be for the environment and how my children are going to suffer from it and how to change it. So I’m just going here to learn more.”
At 11 a.m., the strikers sat in silence for 11 minutes. The silence recognized a 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which found humans have 11 years to take drastic action to reign in a 1.5 degree Celsius global temperature increase and its devastating impacts.
“Though the silence seemed to stretch on in the moment, afterwards I was struck with how little time governments have left to make a change,” said organizer Maryam Dar, 16, a junior at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.
After the rally, the organizers held a “teach-in” inside the Statehouse, speaking to students and onlookers about the science and history of climate change. In a press release, they said they will continue to strike until lawmakers make progress on their demands.
In the meantime, Dar invited youth with a variety of skills, from writing to social media, to get involved.
“Political power is not the only means of enacting change,” she said.
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