In New York City, teens are leading the Climate Strike protests and urging the government to take action

David Iversen
New York City Climate Strike.

David Iversen


  • On Friday, millions of people around the world participated in a Global Climate Strike, to raise awareness about climate change. 
  • In New York, an estimated 250,000 people turned out. 
  • Insider spoke with several of the teens who planned and attended the strike.
  • They're hoping the strike helps policymakers "realize what a big deal this is."
  • Visit the Insider home page for more.

The streets of New York were choked thick with signs, teenagers, the occasional parent, and police. The hot air was filled with drumbeats and chants, made hotter by the crush of bodies slowly moving down Broadway in lower Manhattan. More than 250,000 marched the one mile from New York's Foley Square to Battery Park.

"I think if we don't come out now, it will never happen. The polluting will continue," said Louky Keijsers-Koning. She pulled two of her kids out of school to attend the protest. "It is very good that the kids grow up with the idea that we can still make change. Hopefully, they still have a planet."

Organizers say there are more than 1,000 protests across the United States, Puerto Rico and Washington D.C., "cementing it as the largest climate mobilization in American history." 

Across the globe, 3,426 protests were scheduled across 150 countries. From Tblisi Georgia to Baghdad, Iraq, students – mostly teenagers – organized a network of coordinated protests. As of Friday afternoon, estimates ballooned to 3 million protesters worldwide, and are expected to be even higher.

"Students have been leading the movement," Boston protest organizer Audrey Maurine Xin Lin told Insider. "Our entire organizing team is under 20." 

New York City Climate Strike.

The climate strike comes the same week that President Trump announced a rollback of California's emission standards and just a day before the September 23 kick off of the United Nations Climate Summit.

The protests are meant to grab the attention of elected leaders and force action on climate change. On Monday, protesters plan to shut down key D.C. streets and more protests are scheduled for September 27. 

The approach is deceptively calculated. "We want this to be chaotic,"  organizer Katie Eder, 19, told Insider. "If people continue to go on with business as usual, [climate change] will not be addressed.". 

"Young people are leading the debate," UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a press conference on Wednesday. "They are absolutely right to press us to do better and to unite behind science."

"My generation has to think about concerns that other generations have not had to think about"

Helping bolster the number of protestors, New York City Public School allowed their 1.1 million students to miss class to join the protest, with parental permission. Other cities, like Boston, Montreal and Berkeley also gave excused absences for students attending protests. 

"New York City schools excusing absences is a huge game-changer," said Eder.

With the announcement made, 14-year-old Alexandria Villaseñor, one of the NYC protest organizers, had an even easier time convincing her 8th-grade classmates to show up.

Read more: Photos show huge climate-change protests around the world, which have spread across continents as millions strike to demand action

"I hang with a good crowd, not too many rule-breakers," said Villaseñor. "I think I'm a bad influence on them," she joked. 

Religious and medical leaders offered their support to students. One medical group even offered sick notes to ensure students could attend. Many businesses allowed employees to attend. Some 10,000 Amazon employees walked off the job to join the protest.

At 13, Villaseñor started staging climate change protests outside the United Nations. "I started to see how the climate crisis was affecting communities all across the world." She also founded Earth Uprising, a group that helps plan climate action events, like the protest held Friday. 

Villaseñor wants climate change to be addressed to ensure a "livable planet" for her future family. 

"My generation has to think about concerns that other generations have not had to think about," she said. 

Guterres hopes the protests will push the UN to follow suit and take action on climate change. He wants countries to agree on several climate benchmarks: Reducing carbon emissions by 45 percent before 2030, becoming carbon neutral by 2050, a proposal mirroring an agreement signed by EU members last year.

"We will showcase promising initiatives aiming at moving away from coal, putting a price on carbon, stopping subsidies for fossil fuels and cutting the pollution that damages our health," Guterres said.  

At the protest, signs point to energy companies who turn a blind eye to pollution. Protesters put their demands at odds with profit-driven business models. But protesters and business leaders may be closer than they realize, says Mark Tulay, founder and CEO of Sustainability Risk Advisors. Tulay works to steer corporate investment toward sustainable projects. 

"There's been more growth in sustainable investing in the last 18 months than in the last 18 years," Tulay told Insider. He likens these sustainable business models and protester demands to parallel streams.

"We need these disparate streams to flow into one mighty river and we are probably one election cycle away from that," he said. He points to the 181 CEO's that signed onto the Business Roundtable agreement in August, moving business focus toward sustainable and environmentally-focused models.

"This is an inflection point in this conscious capitalism movement. This is a 'check your engine light' moment for companies." 

Walking down Broadway with friends, that warning is one 11-year-old protester Florence Heppel sees, too.

"I feel like people need to know about this and some people think it isn't a big deal but it is a big deal," Heppell said. "This scares me but people need to be scared to realize what a big deal this is."

Asked what she will remember most, Heppell said the effort it takes to get the message out. "I'm thinking about how loud the chanting is and how sore my throat is. It will definitely be sore tomorrow."


Massive crowds wound their way down Broadway for several hours.

David Iversen

Protesters held hand-made signs urging the government to take action on the environment.

David Iversen

There were plays on Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan.

David Iversen

And pleas to take the crisis seriously.

David Iversen

Strikers kept their energy up by chanting and cheering in turns.

David Iversen

Representatives from every walk of life were spotted in the crowd.

David Iversen

Signs were simple but direct.

David Iversen