- Svanfridur Mura, 8th grader & student striker
In August, 2018, a young girl sat alone outside of the Swedish parliament in Stockholm with a drab sign that read, “Skolstrejk fӧr Klimatet”.
From September 20-27, that same girl led 7.6 million students and adults as they walked out of their schools and workplaces and took to the streets in protest.
The school strike movement has gained huge amounts of momentum since it started with 16-year-old Greta Thunberg just over a year ago. Millions of students now strike every Friday, the movement has won multiple awards, and after being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize Thunberg made a zero-carbon voyage in a sailboat across the Atlantic to speak at the UN climate conference and in front of the US Congress.
These young people are screaming out for a future, protesting the lack of action for climate reform and climate justice by governments around the world.
“This is all wrong,” Thunberg proclaimed in her speech at the UN in September. “For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear…. You [can’t] pretend that this can be solved with just business as usual.”
These students are pointing at the science and demanding not just recognition, but action from their governments. They want nations to take action to eventually go carbon-free and to acknowledge the aspects of climate justice (the idea that climate change hits minority and low-income communities disproportionately) that are often ignored. They are tired of the empty words of politicians, tired of living with the ever-present rain cloud that is a future of environmental disaster. Adults have failed this generation, they say, and by striking school students are saying that they’ve had enough.
The school strike movement has spread throughout the globe. It now occurs not only in Europe but in cities and towns on every continent – including Antarctica. In New York City on September 20th, over 250,000 people took to the streets behind Greta Thunberg.
But there are also smaller strikes taking place around the world, and these strikes are just as important as the eye-catching crowds that are gathering in the cities.
Living in West Orange, NJ, the closest of the big strikes is located in New York City – an hour’s commute away by public transport. And for a student busy with school and with parents who are busy with work, it seemed like there was no way that I could get involved with this movement.
So, last April, I began rallying outside of my local town hall, and have since been striking school once a month and organizing student rallies that are closer to home. Our numbers are small, and what we represent is an idea that is too big for our local government to handle on its own, but that doesn’t make local action like ours any less important.
By even just five of us showing up, we are contributing to the movement. We are telling our local government that this is an issue we care about, and this is an issue we want them to pressure the state and federal government to tackle. We’re also adding our numbers to the millions that strike every Friday, and though five in a million may seem inconsequential, that million is made up of many single people that each had to independently decide to show up.
And this is something that students who live where striking isn’t common need to understand. You don’t have to live where the action is to be apart of it. Though it may be the thousands in city squares that are grabbing headlines, they still need the thousands more scattered throughout the rest of the nation to make change.
Not only is small, local action vital to the movement as a whole, but it is important to the students participating. By coming to a local rally or even working to organize one, students gain valuable lessons about the world around them, their rights as an United States citizen, and how to work with others for what they believe in – lessons that are much more important than what they can learn in a single day of school. And for students that are struggling with climate despair and the feeling that they are helpless to stop it, starting or getting involved in a local strike movement is one of the best things they can do.
“No one is too small to make a difference,” Thunberg often says, and though cliche, there is little that is more true in this movement. Children around the globe have been responsible for some of the most influential movements throughout history. And right now, as we fight for the lives of us, our planet, and everything on it, we have the power to do even more.
So students, strike with us, no matter where you are, who you how, or how often you can. And teachers, make sure your students know that they are not helpless, and I guarantee that that will be one of the most valuable things you could ever teach them.