From Classroom to Climate Strike

Students walked out to join the Climate Strike led by Greta Thunberg on September 20.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

“We deserve a safe future. And we demand a safe future. Is that really too much to ask?” 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg said during her speech at the New York City Climate Strike on September 20. “This is the biggest climate strike ever in history, and we all should be so proud of ourselves because we have done this together.”

Thunberg spoke to a crowd of 315,000 students, most of whom had walked out of their schools earlier that day. The students, including an estimated 500 from Stuyvesant, gathered at Foley Square. Students walking out carried handmade signs with slogans such as “Do It For Her,” referring to Mother Earth, and chanted, “Hey hey, ho ho; climate change has got to go!” The turnout itself was a victory for the strike’s organizers, who expected less than five percent of that. “We told the NYPD to expect 10,000 people,” said senior Grace Goldstein, who helped plan the march citywide.

The march ended in Battery Park, where the strike continued with a rally featuring musical guests and speakers from around the world. “The speakers [at the rally] were incredible, and I absolutely loved that we ended with indigenous speakers who taught us a song because they are underrepresented in this fight, even though they were fighting it long before the rest of us realized it was a problem,” said senior Cecilia Bachana, who worked on the art committee for the strike, in an e-mail interview.

The climate strike, which was part of a larger global movement with about six million people participating worldwide, stemmed from Thunberg’s protests about climate change outside her country’s parliament on Fridays. The strike occurred the day before the United Nations (UN) Climate Summit to demonstrate public support for action against climate change. Besides speaking during the rally in Battery Park, Thunberg spoke at the UN conference as well.

Stuyvesant’s participation in the event was organized by students who are passionate about climate change. “I think [climate change is] the most important issue of our time. I need to try to do as much as possible to work toward a solution,” said senior Alex Nobert, who was one of Stuyvesant’s organizers. “Activism makes me feel like I’m doing more.”

For Goldstein, the protest was necessary to change the attitude surrounding climate change. “Change has always happened through protest. Protests build awareness. Protests build empathy and compassion. They create networks of people who can work together in the future,” she said.

Many students felt the presence of this network during the strike, noting that the strike fostered a sense of solidarity. “I felt a sense of togetherness that I loved. People of all ages marched and shouted with us. It was mostly teenagers, but countless adults and even young children joined in,” Bachana said.

However, the strike did not create the same sense of unity among all Stuyvesant students. An anonymous student who attended the march explained their disappointment with Stuyvesant’s response to the event. “The Stuyvesant community was overall indifferent to the march. I could tell whether or not some of the staff supported [...] the students walking out, and it was quite easy to see that some of my teachers didn't approve of either the climate change protest or [of] cutting class to fight for our beliefs,” they said in an e-mail interview.

Another student, who also wished to remain anonymous, believes that the protest is altogether ineffective. “I don’t believe that a bunch of teenagers blocking traffic is going to make much of a difference,” they said.

Despite the backlash, students are still proud of the walkout and what it symbolized. “Our strike did not aim to change everything right [a]way; in fact, multiple speakers and organizers both at the event and behind the scenes repeated that this is only the beginning,” Bachana said. “The goal of this strike was to make it clear to the world that we will no longer stand idly by and watch those with power destroy our lives and our homes, and I think it did that.”

In the days leading up to the strike, the Department of Education (DOE) announced its decision to excuse all absences from class as long as students had notes signed by their parents allowing them to leave. Goldstein expressed mixed feelings about the amnesty granted by the DOE. While Goldstein considers the excused absences a victory, knowing that “at other schools, it really, really helped the turnout, [...] in [Stuyvesant’s] case, it backfired a little bit because the administration’s policy became ‘we won’t physically let you leave the building unless you have a note saying so signed by a parent,’” she said. Goldstein thinks that instead of treating the walkout as a student-led protest, the administration “treat[ed] it like a field trip where you need a permission slip or [they] won’t let you leave at all,” she said.

Bachana is also ambivalent. “Many students think that it kills the point of the strike, which was to defy ‘what we were supposed to do,’” she said. On the other hand, she is grateful that no students were penalized for the strike and thinks the amnesty was a way for the DOE to extend a silent hand of support to the cause, sending a powerful message to the national government.

It remains to be seen where the momentum from the strike will go, but students are excited about continuing to fight for climate change. “I certainly think there will be more strikes planned,” Nobert said. “Getting people to be involved in specific local policy is important.”

“I look forward to being able to help out even more in the coming months and the coming strikes,” Bachana said.

Though the march is seen as undeniably significant by the organizers, they also emphasize that changing small things in your everyday routine is incredibly important. “Everyone can’t be a politician [and] everyone can’t be a climate scientist, but everyone should still be contributing to this,” Goldstein said. “I do think everyone should try to do what they can, try to take the thing you felt at the rally and the vision of the future and how it could end up going—try to apply it to your daily life as much as possible.”