Stuyvesant Students March to United Nations Climate Summit

On September 17th, approximately 20 Stuyvesant students alongside 75,000 other protestors marched in Midtown Manhattan demanding that the United States end fossil fuel production and reduce fossil fuel reliance.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Cover Image
By Helen Mancini

Approximately 20 Stuyvesant students lined up in Midtown Manhattan on September 17 alongside 75,000 other protestors and marched east along 52nd Street with one demand: end fossil fuels. The goal of the protest was to pressure the United Nations General Assembly’s Climate Ambition Summit to reduce fossil fuel reliance following a series of recent global climate emergencies. With wide support for these goals, this protest had the second-largest turnout of any climate protest in New York City history.

The protest was spurred by United States President Joseph Biden’s authorization of the Willow Project, an oil drilling project in Alaska, and the general lack of climate change action on the government’s part. The U.S. has not made significant progress in lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and it has been off track or broken many climate promises, such as the 2015 Paris Agreement. Climate activists, as well as young progressives in general, were angered by the limited executive action and progress. Together, they mobilized and participated in this protest, directly calling for the end of fossil fuel usage. 

Many people, especially students, have worked together with organizations such as Fridays for Future New York City (FFFNYC) to advocate for much-needed change. “This summer I started learning more about the urgency of the issue, and I became more concerned with what I saw during our daily lives, [such as] consumerism [and] pollution,” junior Grace Rhee said. “Seeing the efforts of my peers had a big impact on [inspiring] me. It felt empowering to be surrounded by thousands of youth or teens who had all shown up for the same reason.”

The planning and organization of the protest were inspired by countless other demonstrations aimed at the United Nations (UN), especially the 2015 People’s Climate March and the 2019 Climate Strike. FFFNYC organized the student section, where juniors Preena Patel and Helen Mancini organized the Stuyvesant turnout. “Helen Mancini is a huge climate activist, [and] she’s been involved with FFFNYC since she was 11 years old. She’s spent a lot of time around these issues,” junior and Stuyvesant FFFNYC hub captain Preena Patel said. “We were writing a new song and revising the lyrics to this old chant. It was a community of organizers.”

The protest’s planning started at the end of the last school year, and most of it happened over the summer. “There were weekly meetings where FFFNYC hub captains would meet [with] captains from high schools, colleges, [and] churches. We would meet [both] in person and virtually, and these meetings lasted two hours during the summer,” Patel said. “The goal was to mobilize Stuy students, even mobilize all students [...] I recruited people from high schools, and then I went out [handing out] flyers [...] It is a climate emergency, after all.”

Near the UN headquarters, the protest culminated in speeches. Many speakers, from youth activist Mancini to representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) to Schaghticoke Chief Sachem Hawk Storm, gave powerful speeches criticizing President Biden’s response to climate change and calling on the U.S. to end fossil fuel production and reduce their consumption. “I thought all the speeches were great. I like that we had different perspectives there,” junior Aleeza Shekhani said.

While the speeches were being given, the protest spanned more than six consecutive blocks along Third Avenue. “I remember both Helen’s and AOC’s speeches as very moving, which was best for an audience that had just walked the width of Manhattan,” junior Walker Simpson said. “I thought the turnout was good. I remember something in the area of 70,000, which, when you think about it, is a lot.”

While participants are aware that the change sparked by this protest isn’t going to be immediate, they hope their demands for the U.S. and UN’s general assembly will achieve drastic change. “The government has the power to stop so many projects. It’s a [policy] issue, and that’s why there needs to be a bridge between climate activists and the government,” Patel said.  

Ultimately, Stuyvesant students felt inspired that they were able to march together with respectable numbers for climate action. “[My classmates’] decisions to prioritize climate strikes in order to voice their concerns on the future of our environment was super inspirational,” Rhee said. “In the future, I also hope to prioritize making decisions that impact the greater good.”