How the youth-led Climate Strike is empowering grownups: 'the Greta Thunberg impact'

Among the more than 60,000 protestors taking to the streets of New York City on Friday as part of the Global Climate Strike was Amilca Palmer, there with her 8-year-old son and having mixed feelings about the powerful day of youth protest.

“Part of me feels a sense of sadness, that we’re leaving such a mess to the younger people,” Palmer, 44, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “On the other hand, I feel a sense of tremendous humility that young, young people are waking to this and organizing against the inaction of the government, against greed… It’s such a beautifully unifying moment.”

At the Global Climate Strike in New York City, parents were empowered by children. (Photo: Kelly Matousek for Verizon Media)

Palmer, who comes from an “activist family” and said that many of her earliest memories are of “getting on buses at 4 in the morning and heading to D.C.,” was one of many parents who spoke about having their own sense of activism reenergized, as well as feeling a rush of inspiration, pride and guilt in the face of Friday’s march and school strike — one of thousands of local events across the 50 states and in 150 countries around the world.

New York City’s version saw tens of thousands of kids and teens ditch classes — with the blessing of NYC’s Department of Education — to do some schooling of their own, while adults (many of them the parents of the young activists) skipped work, demanding action from elected officials and institutions around the world on the escalating climate crisis. The strike, organized by the Climate Strike Coalition, is kicking off a week of events to fight climate change.

New York’s rally and march, fanning out across Lower Manhattan under bright blue skies and blaring sunshine, was, more than anything, a youth-led movement, poignantly reminiscent of 2018’s March for Our Lives.

Elizabeth Payne and her daughter in New York City on Friday. (Photo: Kelly Matousek for Verizon Media)

“It’s inspiring… and to me, essential that it’s girls who are leading,” says Paulina Perera-Riveroll, 45, who was there with her husband and 10-year-old daughter, Stella. “As a woman and a mother of a girl it’s incredible. It shows her: You can lead movements.” Adds dad Peter Kane, 46, “The self-confidence that they have to say what’s true and right in the face of power is something I want Stella to have, especially as she gets older — for her voice to get louder, not quieter. When she sees truth, to speak truth.”

Most of the protestors who spoke with Yahoo Lifestyle said that they were inspired by the blunt tenacity of strike leader Greta Thunberg, the Swedish 16-year-old who sailed across the Atlantic ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit, was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, has already been hailed by Barack Obama as “one of our planet’s greatest activist,” and recently told members of Congress, “Save your praise, we don’t want it!”

Testifying before Congress on Wednesday, Thunberg said, “As it is now, in general, people don’t seem to be very aware of the actual science and how severe this crisis actually is. So, I just think we need to inform them and start treating this crisis like the existential emergency it is. Then I think people will want to understand and will want to do something about it.”

And people are listening. “I think the fact that 9-year-olds are out here being activists and trying to get adults' attention is really the ‘Greta Thunberg impact,’” Elizabeth Payne, of Brooklyn, marching with her daughter Avery Tsai, 9, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “The Fridays for Future group that Greta started is global and exciting. For those coming up in the next generation behind these teens, like my daughter, they're doing a great thing to tell her as a little person that, ‘Hey, you have a voice. Get out there.’”

Friday’s strike — which demanded an end to fossil fuels, a just transition for frontline communities, and a way to hold polluters accountable — included about a 20-block march, performers, and a rally with a lineup of teen speakers. But most startling was the sea of children and teens, who had inspired their parents, teachers and other adults in their lives to take to the streets and make noise.

Nathalie David with her daughter at the Global Climate Strike in New York City. (Photo: Kelly Matousek for Verizon Media)

“She joined Fridays for Future and found her voice in all of this,” Payne adds about her daughter. “She was asking me really scary things like, ‘Is the earth going to blow up?’ at 7. And I never had those kinds of thoughts, and it never crossed my mind. It’s pretty heartbreaking to have your child think these things. The only way we can counteract that is by saying we're going to get the grownups — the people in power — to listen, and that you and I can do this together. So, let’s do it.”

Nathalie David, 32, who brought her 3-year-old daughter to the protest, says, “This is beyond empowering, to see young people care so much about the issues of this world. And these are not small issues that these kids are educating themselves about and informing themselves about so that they can be here and fight for.”

Many parents spoke about getting out of their comfort zone by joining the protest, and about how their children were what pushed them to do so.

“I was kind of thinking of coming, and my daughter said, ‘We have to go! You’ve got to show up,” says Jamie Wilson Murray, of New Jersey, marching with her 12-year-old daughter. “After 2016, you kind of get on fire and have to figure out ways to stay engaged.”

Grace Goldstein, 17, a speaker at the Global Climate Strike in NYC on Friday. (Photo: Kelly Matousek for Verizon Media)

Adds Anthony Pereira, 47, marching with his daughter, 10, “We went to that first Women’s March in D.C. and felt like we were doing more than just voting. It’s like we live in a new world now, and I’m more and more aware of protests and activism. I’ve really awakened in the last few years, and I think it’s inspiring that the young people are leading this.”

Even parents who have spent much of their lives being activists, though, said they felt that this movement was powering into new territory.

“[Their activism] is so much stronger, it's so much more educated. It's deeper and it's more inclusive,” says Laura Cahill, 47, who has spent years getting involved with efforts from Amnesty International to local anti-violence protests. She marched on Friday with her 17-year-old daughter Grace Goldstein, a Youth Climate speaker. “There is a wider community that they're trying to speak for. I don't look at it and think, ‘This is a renewal.’ It really feels new to me.”

Palma Repole with her daughter, Esmé, at the Global Climate Strike in New York City. (Photo: Kelly Matousek for Verizon Media)

Palma Repole, 50, a high school teacher out marching with a group of students, as well as her 8-year-old daughter Esmé, says, “I think [activism] was my first love. I studied this in college 30 years ago and went to the first Earth Days and protested. And then I think the message got lost. It was all about individual changes that would change the world. And it's not wrong, it's just never been enough.” So, she adds, “I do feel renewed. And the reason why I'm here is because of Greta — and not just because of what she says, but because she's the embodiment of the way we need to live if the future is going to be sustainable. We can no longer fix this problem with individual changes — it has to be systemic.”

Cahill echoed much of that, adding, “Kids are reading more. They really know what they're talking about… They just feel louder, more confident. They're at a tipping point and they know it.”

Finally, Cahill says, she believes in the force of the younger generation. “I believe that they have the opportunity to make a change. I believe that they do. I believe that they care about voting more than my generation cared about voting. And that's a conversation they have even socially; they talk about it all the time. They just talk about it and they can't wait to vote. And that's going to be the biggest way that they make a difference and they know that. They're excited to have that responsibility.”

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