In August last year, teen activist Greta Thunberg began a solitary climate protest on the steps of the Swedish parliament every Friday. In January this year, teen activist Alexandria Villasenor began a solitary climate protest in front of the United Nations in New York. This Friday, their worlds’ collided.
Thunberg arrived in New York via a carbon-free racing boat trip across the Atlantic. On Friday, Villaseñor sat on her customary bench. A half hour later, Thunberg descended the stairs from Thunberg city and took up a spot in Ralph Bunche Park four blocks away. Villaseñor walked to meet her and a cadre of American youth activists who shared their stories of what it means to be the ones who will live with adults’ decisions today.
Thunberg became an international sensation for her direct and plain statements on the climate crisis to world leaders. Her words have helped build a movement brought 1.6 million young adults into the streets in March for a global strike. And now, with the United Nations poised to hold a massive climate summit on September 23, the youth are gearing up to mobilize again. Friday, September 20 is slated to be another global day of action. Thunberg will be striking here in the U.S. ahead of speaking at the United Nations on Monday. So consider this Friday’s strike a warm up.
And if the warm up is any indication, the coming strikes will be major. Youth activists crowded around Thunberg, chanting about climate justice and their goals for striking. A number of activists stood up and gave testimony for why they strike and how the world had failed them as a heated media scrum jostled to capture a historic moment. It was, in a word, chaos and at times the soft-spoken Thunberg who has been in the states for less than 48 hours seemed exhausted as the midday heat built.
Yet she stayed in solidarity with the protestors while they shared their stories about the climate crisis. And they made it clear they understand the risks and the bullshit hand they’ve been dealt by adults.
“The climate crisis follows you. It is affecting everyone, everywhere,” Xiya Bastida, a 17 year old activist who moved to the U.S. from Mexico, said to the assembled crowd. “We cannot live in a world where a 16-year-old has to cross the Atlantic to get you to pay attention.”
“They have chosen money over our future,” Villaseñor said. “We should not have to worry about that.”
Those worrisome choices continued in the U.S. this week as the Trump administration announced it was rolling back a key methane rule, just a month after the hottest month in recorded history. It’s an encapsulation of the uphill battle activists face, especially as time to address the climate crisis dwindles.