Youth Climate Strike: Why me and why now?

by Lauren Cohen

Students from around the country and the world participated in a Youth Climate Strike on March 15. Here in Gainesville, the strike took place in the form of a demonstration downtown in front of City Hall.

The strike was inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who started striking regularly from classes in an effort to raise awareness and demand reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions.

As a young activist (I am a 15-year-old high school freshman), I was attracted to the significance of this world-wide event. Having been involved in other events in the past and maintaining a strong moral understanding that we all have responsibility for the future of our world, I believed that participating in the Youth Climate Strike was not only important, but necessary.

Participation changed to something else when my friend, Feliquan Charlemagne, who is the state organizer for the National Youth Climate Strike, asked me to organize the event here in Gainesville. I knew it would be a challenge, but, as committed as I was to the cause, there was never any thought of saying no. As a student living in Gainesville and one who can understand the fundamentals of science, I understand the impact of climate action or lack-thereof for our future and future generations.

I believe it is critical that people are made aware of what we are doing to our planet, and how our decisions affect us today and how they will translate into the future. By choosing to be apathetic and not care for our planet, we should expect the worst effects of climate change on not only our lives but our children’s. We must also acknowledge that marginalized communities, especially black, low income, and disabled, are all disproportionately affected by climate change. To stay quiet about this is to become complacent.

So, with the help of a coalition of several other students at the high school and college level, I set out to organize the Gainesville Youth Climate Strike. We invited speakers who were going to offer valuable information about how to effectively change the way we treat our world.

Finally, after much frantic planning, the day of the Youth Climate Strike was here, and the results were incredible.

Approximately 200 people came out to raise their voices and demand that our legislatures take substantial actions against climate change. While most of them were young, we had people of all ages. Our speakers included 13-year-old Alachua County resident Isaac Augspurg. Isaac is one of eight young Floridians suing the state over climate change in a lawsuit filed by the nonprofit group, Our Children’s Trust.

Other speakers included Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe, Gainesville City Commissioners David Arreola and Harvey Ward, Sunrise Movement Fellow Marcella Mulholland, environmental consultant Jim McFarlane and environmental author Cynthia Barnett, who, with her son in attendance, talked about the importance of mothers protecting the planet for the future of their children.

We marched around downtown Gainesville with signs in our hands and passion in our hearts, as we chanted things like “What do we do when our planet is under attack? Stand up, fight back!” and “Listen to our warning! Stop Global Warming!” at passersby.

So, what does it mean to have this one day around the world when the youth rise up to express their outrage and concern about the way we are treating our planet?

With our futures at stake, we call for legislative action to combat climate change and its detrimental effects on our communities. 

We striked for the Green New Deal, for a fair and just transition to a 100 percent renewable economy, and for ending the creation of additional fossil fuel infrastructure. 

We believe the climate crisis should be declared a national emergency because we are running out of time. 

People from Australia to Luxembourg to Gainesville have come together to demand action and we do not plan to stop until we see action. This is not the end. This is simply the beginning. D

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