From The Washington Post (Sarah Kaplan):
“My generation is really upset.” The deal struck at COP24, the U.N. climate meeting in December, was insufficient, [Alexandria Villasenor] says. “We’re not going to let them . . . hand us down a broken planet.”
“Huh. Right,” the reporter says. “Big ambitions.”
Alexandria raises her eyebrows.
“Yeah,” she replies, confident.
Afterward, she changes into her striking uniform: waterproof ski pants and a down jacket, all in white, just like the congresswomen at the State of the Union and the suffragists of old. She packs her bag — planner, thermos, gloves — and grabs her plastic-encased cardboard signs, which read “SCHOOL STRIKE 4 CLIMATE” and “COP 24 FAILED US.”
She holds the signs facing inward so other commuters on the subway can’t see them. She doesn’t like it when people stare.
“They’ll probably think it’s just a science project,” Alexandria tells her mother. Then she laughs. “Well, technically it is. It’s project conservation. Project save the Earth.”
In December she watched as international negotiators met in Poland to carve out a plan for curbing carbon emissions. A recent U.N. report found that humanity has until 2030 — the year Alexandria turns 24 — to achieve “rapid and far-reaching” transformation of society if we wish to avoid the dire environmental consequences of warming 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. Yet the agreement that was ultimately reached fell far short of what scientists say is urgently needed.
In the midst of all this, Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old from Sweden, took the podium.
“You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes,” the girl proclaimed to a room full of stunned adults. “We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not.”
Recalling that speech, Alexandria’s eyes light up. “She just put them in their place,” Alexandria says. “That was extremely satisfying.”
Alexandria searched Greta’s name online and found stories about the Swedish girl’s climate strike in front of her country’s parliament building, then in its fourth month. Greta said she had been inspired by student activists from Parkland, Fla., who said they would not go back to school until gun-control legislation was passed. “I am too young to vote and to lobby,” she told The Washington Post this week. “But I can sit down with a sign and make my voice heard.”
Alexandria knew what she needed to do.
She made her first pilgrimage to the United Nations Headquarters on Dec. 14. The next week she was back — with an umbrella. She has endured relentless rain and brutal wind off the East River (weeks three and four). She has braved the polar vortex that sent temperatures plummeting to 10 degrees (week eight).
Few of the New Yorkers bustling by ever stop to talk to her. And in her first eight weeks of striking, no one offered to join.
“But I stay motivated,” she says. “Of course. It’s my future on the line.”
Adults who underestimate the movement do so at their own peril. Since late last year, strikes in European cities have regularly drawn tens of thousands of participants. More than 15,000 people showed up for a strike in Australia — even after their prime minister urged them to be “less activist.”
When a Belgian environment minister suggested that the growing protests were a “setup” this month, she was forced to resign. The following day, 20,000 kids were back in the streets of Brussels.
That day, Alexandria shared an image of a Dutch protest on Twitter, alongside the declaration, “It’s coming to America. You haven’t seen anything yet.”
Alexandria has joined forces with Haven Coleman, a 12-year-old striker from Colorado, and Isra Hirsi, the 15-year-old daughter of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), to organize the U.S. movement.
‘This is about my generation’
“That one down there is mine,” Alexandria says. She points to a bench about 100 feet from the U.N. visitor entrance, as close as she’s allowed to get to the protected building.
It’s raining — a persistent chilly drizzle — and the wind keeps blowing her posters down. But Alexandria is feeling good about the day. For the first time since she started her protest, she will have company later that day.
Hogue takes a photo to post to Twitter. Alexandria poses with her arms crossed and her hip tilted to the side, unsmiling. She is not here to look cute.
Then Hogue hugs her daughter and walks away. Since she began the strike nine weeks ago, Alexandria has been adamant about protesting on her own.
“This is about my generation,” the girl says.
After a few hours, the rain subsides and Alexandria’s first fellow protester appears. Stefanie Giglio, 31, is a freelance writer and activist who was trained as one of Al Gore’s “Climate Reality” advocates.
Alexandria reaches out to shake the woman’s hand. “Thanks for coming,” she says.
They compare signs and commiserate about how much more radical Europeans are than Americans.
“I really believe in direct action,” Alexandria says.
“Yeah,” says Giglio. “It’s great that your parents are okay with this.”
The 13-year-old nods. She has friends elsewhere in the city whose parents won’t let them skip school to protest.
“They’re so dependent on school,” Alexandria says. “Like, I need to go to school to get the education for the job that’s definitely going to be there in 10 years.”
She raises her eyebrows again.
“If I don’t have a future, why go to school? Why go to school if we’re going to be too focused on running from disasters? Striking has to be the way.”