Students across metro Atlanta are expected to leave school and hit the streets Friday to protest the lack of government action on climate issues.
Their actions, combined with that of millions of other demonstrators, may turn out to be the world’s largest climate protest ever.
The movement — here and internationally — is being led by young people. And they’re demanding to be heard.
“I believe our politicians are taking pity on us because we are younger than adults and they feel we don’t have a voice because we aren’t old enough to vote,” said Jordan Madden, 15, a sophomore at Mt. Zion High School in Jonesboro. “Young people across the country have the power to make change.”
Madden has been rallying students in Clayton County to attend the Youth Climate Strike in Atlanta at the state Capitol. It is his first time helping to organize a climate strike and like many young people across the state, he is driven by the impact climate change could have on their lives. “Our politicians now are not taking it as seriously as it needs to be taken,” he said.
Demonstrators in 150 countries and at 2,500 locations, including 900 in the U.S. and across Georgia, are expected to participate.The strikes, on Sept. 20 and Sept. 27, are timed to coincide with a week of events in New York City, beginning with the United Nations Youth Climate Summit on Saturday and continuing through the United Nations Climate Action Summit which runs from Sept. 24 - 30.
It has been just over a year since Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old environmental activist from Sweden, became the global face of a movement when she skipped school and sat outside the parliament building in that country asking for more action on climate change. She began regularly skipping classes on Fridays and invited other students to join her weekly “Fridays for Future” protests. By November, tens of thousands of students in more than 20 countries were participating in the School Strike for Climate and Thunberg was elevated to the role of youth climate guru speaking at events around Europe.
It didn’t take long for her efforts to inspire students in the U.S. and other countries, growing the number of climate strikers to more than 3.6 million people worldwide. Metro Atlanta students have already participated in several strikes this year in March and May also at the Capitol.
This time, Thunberg is calling on adults to show up as well.
“It is important for us to give the kids a voice and make sure they are in a safe place to be heard,” said Sloan Richardson, 45, store manager at a Buckhead Patagonia. The company is one of several brands, including Lush Cosmetics and Ben & Jerry’s, that will close its stores or open late to allow employees to support youth activists. Age doesn’t matter when it comes to the importance of the environment, Richardson said, but it is young people who will inherit the future earth.
That has propelled many young climate activists from the sidelines to real action, but leaving school in the middle of a school day hasn’t been without issue. School districts such as New York City and Portland will allow students an excused absence with a note from parents, others such as Seattle Public Schools have said absence for any reason outside of those generally approved will not be excused. Seattle students have school officials to reconsider. When some students from Lovett School in Atlanta participated in previous climate strikes, school policy required a note from parents to attend a non-school related event off campus during the school day, said a school spokesperson. Local student organizers said teachers and professors at some schools and colleges are planning to attend the Atlanta strike along with their students.
Madden will attend the climate strike at the Capitol after school. For him,adult engagement is important but he has been most inspired by other youth including Jackson Hinkle, the 18-year-old who decided to run for city council in San Clemente, California. “If young people can influence politicians, they can make change,” Madden said. “We have already seen this in the 1960s with the Civil Rights Movement.”
Then, as now, sometimes action must be bold. Michelle Douglas, 20, a student at the University of Georgia, majoring in environmental engineering got involved in November when she discovered the organization Earth Strike International. While she will participate in the Sept. 20 climate strikes in Athens, she is helping to organize a Sept. 27 event in Atlanta that goes a step beyond protest, she said. The Southeast Climate Strike and Rebellion encourages action by creating an inconvenience.
After several days of training, hundreds of people will meet at the Buckhead MARTA station for a street party designed to stop the flow of traffic and interrupt the local economy, Douglas said. “School strikes got young people participating and working for change but ultimately it is not enough,” she said. “This is not a protest, it is an action. The intent is to disrupt.”
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