ITHACA, N.Y. — “What do we want? Climate action! When do we want it? Now!” hundreds of young people chanted as they marched from Ithaca High School down to the Commons. By “striking” Friday, local students joined tens of thousands of other youth across the globe who showed up to protest inaction on climate change.

After the marchers streamed onto the Ithaca Commons and spread out around the Bernie Milton Pavilion, one of the event organizers, IHS senior Mira Driskell, told the gathered crowd that by showing up today, they have officially claimed their place in a global movement to protest climate inaction.

“Like you, they’ve all come to realize a simple fact: we need to take action on climate change. Right now, our generation is facing an uncertain future plagued with disasters of biblical proportions. And what’s infuriating to me, as a member of the next generation, is that this isn’t a future we made for ourselves. This is a future formed with the interests of corporations and inactive governments who have enabled them as the world around us crumbles to the ground. … Today, we demand that politicians across the globe take our future seriously and treat climate change for what it is: a crisis.”

Students and adults linked up on Cayuga Street next to the high school at about 11:30 a.m. before heading off toward the Commons. Along the march they chanted “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Fossil fuels have got to go,” while holding signs reading “Young Lives Matter” and “Make The Climate Great Again.”

Students rally for climate change on the Commons. (Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)
One of the organizers, IHS senior Mira Driskell, addresses the crowd gathered March 15 on the Ithaca Commons. (Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)

Students at the rally explained that their generation will be most impacted by climate change and were proud to stand in solidarity with similar marches taking place across the world.

“I’m doing what a lot of people are doing. I’m protesting for climate change policies to change. I think that we are the younger generation, that we are the ones that’ll be most affected by the change and we’ll be the ones left with whatever society has left,” said Jacob Ellis, a sophomore at Lehman Alternative Community School.

Maya Soto, a sophomore at LACS, said it was important to march not only as young people but also in solidarity with indigenous communities. “As a young indigenous woman I feel the need to step up to the plate with other people here who are fighting for climate justice. It’s also fighting for indigenous sovereignty, and that is very important to me,” she said.

The Global Climate Strike was sparked by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, a Swedish student who sat before her country’s Parliament in August and refused to attend school to protest adults’ lack of action of climate change. Over 2,000 events were scheduled in at least 125 countries for the March 15 climate protest, making it one of the largest climate protests in history.

“Some people say I should be in school instead. Some people said I should study to become a climate scientist so that I can ‘solve’ the climate crisis. But the climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is wake up and change. And why should I be studying for a future that soon will be no more when no one is doing anything whatsoever to save their future?” Thunberg said during a Ted Talk in February. “I think that if a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not coming to school for a few weeks, imagine what we could all do together if we wanted to.”

Speakers protested government inaction on climate change. (Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)

Some students in Ithaca said they are frustrated that the issue of climate change has sparked a debate rather than launching a national emergency here in the United States.

“The reason it’s turned into a controversy is because we live in corporate America and all the people who have the money know that if we started boycotting all of the main businesses they would go out of business. I hope this rally makes people feel empowered to make changes in their own lives because we can’t compensate for the people that refuse to be a part of this movement,” said Genevieve Chase, a student at New Roots Charter School.

Data from NASA shows the past five years have been the warmest on record, and a report last year by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that without aggressive action, the world will face worsening wildfires, food shortages and other catastrophic effects as early as 2040.

Taking the microphone at the rally, Dominic Woolf, a senior research associate in crop and soil sciences at Cornell University, pledged to support the young people who have created this movement.

“This movement has been built in just a matter of weeks by young people and children who have found the voice and strength to demand that their futures finally be respected,” Woolf said.

Woolf told the crowd that he has worked on climate change solutions for about 30 years, and in all that time he said he has found “very few occasions to really dare to hope that we can sufficiently act on and solve this issue.” However, he said the movement launched Friday gives him hope.

“All the solutions are known and they are achievable, and the only thing that’s been missing up until now is the social momentum to actually do what is needed,” he said.

A couple hundred people gathered for the rally. (Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)

Mark Johnson, IHS’s Green Team teacher advisor, likewise said he was proud of his students for joining the global strike and taking the lead on climate change.

“I think the current administration doesn’t believe it exists and today’s youth, who are charged with doing something about this, are trying to show everybody that it’s really happening, and that we should stand up and listen to them. It makes my heart grow seeing all these students here today,” he said.

Students at the rally shared a sentiment of hope despite bleak climate forecasts. Sophia Patt, a member of Green Team, said they originally expected around 15 people to attend the rally, and that they were proud of the large turnout.

“Honestly, when we were starting out we were hoping to just get like 15 people, and it’s obviously way more than that, which is brilliant. We’re basically just hoping to raise awareness about what’s been going on and people need to take action and that the youth really care. We want action. We want change,” Patt said.

Though this global movement is youth-led, students agreed that adults can help by listening to the younger generation and by showing their support on climate action.

As Pearl Wood, a student at LACS, put it, “The time is now and we can’t wait any longer to protest about the climate. I think everybody, both students and adults, should be taking about this issue, but I think youth are the best ones to continue the momentum for the movement because historically a lot of positive change has been led by youth. I also think adults should listen to the youth because that’s ultimately who’s going be living here in years to come.”

Featured image by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice.

J.T. Stone

J.T. Stone is a contributor for The Ithaca Voice and a 2020 graduate of Ithaca High School. Questions? Story tips? Email him at jt22stone@gmail.com.