Guest columnists Seo-Ho Lee and Naomi Johnson: Youth climate activists take over the streets of Boston

  • A view of the crowd at the Boston Climate Stroke on Sept. 20, with the State House in the background. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Participants in the Sept. 20 Boston Climate Strike, from left, include Madeline Clarkewright, Allison Brau, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and Seo-Ho Lee. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Participants in the Sept. 20 Boston Climate Strike, from left, include Violeta Foster, Petua Mukimba, Madeline Clarkewright, Allison Brau, Seo-Ho Lee and Jana Murphy. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Published: 10/9/2019 9:17:59 AM

It was an increasingly sunny day, and with over 10,000 other strikers surrounding us, the heat was becoming uncomfortable.

But when the speakers at the Boston Climate Strike on Sept. 20 passionately spoke of the consequences of climate change on loved ones and called out politicians who were making no moves to appropriately address the issue, we felt fiery in a different way.

The Boston City Hall Plaza was a melting pot of emotions of sadness, betrayal, hope and solidarity with one another. The strike was just one of 5,000 strikes that day, demonstrating massive international collaboration among youth activists after the rise of climate activism catalyst Greta Thunberg.

The Boston Climate Strike was successful thanks to the efforts of a dedicated team of teenagers who worked for months to put the event into action. Activists from Youth Climate Strike MA, Sunrise Movement, Extinction Rebellion and other organizations were part of the planning process. In Western Mass, organizers headed by Kala Garrido from Westhampton and Saraphina Forman from Northampton chartered 13 buses to transport over 500 supporters to the strike.

Xiaoping Yu, hub co-coordinator for Sunrise Amherst, was also heavily involved in strike planning.

“The past few weeks of late nights were definitely worth it,” says Yu. “Seeing all these people strike with us was empowering and made me feel optimistic about our future.”

Many residents from Amherst also made the important decision to leave school or their job for the day and join the strike in an effort to amplify its urgent message. The ride to Boston was two hours of anticipation for an event to remember: a huge turnout of activists on the Boston City Plaza and a chance to network with diverse people from all over Massachusetts. We were far from disappointed.

The strike began with a rally and a lineup of rousing speakers at an overflowing City Hall Plaza. Speakers at the strike represented a diversity of backgrounds and experiences, including a Harvard student, an immigrant from Honduras and a Native American leader. Their words were met with roaring applause and cheers.

“It was comforting to see how all the speakers connected climate change to their own identities, whether it be their age, race, or ethnicity,” says Petua Mukimba, a junior at Amherst Regional High School. “Connecting the problems we see in our world to ourselves is important to help us understand why we need to fight for change.”

After the rally, people poured into the streets and began the march toward the State House, chanting “Hey, hey, ho ho, climate change has got to go!” We waved our signs high in the air for the cameras, the people and the politicians to see and marched with the intensity of someone trying to save the world.

Pedestrians stared at us as we passed by in awe and snapped pictures to memorialize the day. Everyone had an aura of urgency that we hoped we emanated, too. Upon arriving at the State House, protesters crowded into the central lobby, spilling onto the stairs and surrounding balcony.

The thousands who couldn’t fit into the State House rallied outside for a concurrent action. Several rounds of enthusiastic chants, deafening chants and heartfelt final words rounded off the day of action.

Sept. 20 ended around the world with outstanding numbers. There were 5,000 strikes in over 185 countries, with at least 4 million people in attendance. The 250,000 strikers in New York City were joined by Thunberg, the founder of Youth Climate Strike International, who had sailed across the Atlantic in a zero-emissions sailboat.

Overall, the strike tied together climate activists and made a powerful demand for climate action worldwide.

Garrido, the organizer for western Mass, said, “I am so thankful for all the friends I have made while organizing this strike and am inspired by the thousands that showed. This is only the beginning. We will be back.”

Seo-Ho Lee and Naomi Johnson are students at Amherst Regional High School and co-founders of the Sunrise Amherst hub.

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