Around the world Friday, students left class, employees walked out of offices and those at home stepped outside. This daytime pause wasn’t an act of truancy. People took to the streets around the globe to demand climate action.
Here’s what you need to know:
- An estimated 4 million people in more than 150 countries took part in the Global Climate Strike, according to 350.org, one of the groups organizing the strike.
- The youth-led demonstration advocated for things like implementing the Green New Deal, restoring biodiversity and respecting Indigenous land.
- The strike comes less than a week before the U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York.
- The youth climate movement has largely been inspired by Swedish student Greta Thunberg, who began protesting climate inaction outside her country’s parliament last year.
- Read our preview coverage of the strikes across the country, including in Boston, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and Anchorage, Alaska.
Anchorage Update: 4:30pm PT (7:30pm EST)
Youth are taking the mic in Anchorage, expressing why climate change is an important issue to them and their communities. Youth traveled not just from Anchorage but from all over the state—from Unalakleet to Utqiagvik.
Esau Sinnok, 21, is one of more than a dozen youth suing the state of Alaska for its role in contributing to climate change, stating the state’s climate and energy policy violated their constitutional rights. The case is expected to be heard by the Alaska Supreme Court in the coming weeks and Sinnok encouraged youth at the strike to attend.
Sinnok is originally from Shishmaref, an arctic community on the shores of the Chukchi Sea that has been experiencing melting sea ice and coastal erosion.
Now, a student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, he first got involved in climate justice efforts when he was 17 and participated in a social justice summit sponsored by the Sierra Club. Since then, he’s been an Arctic Youth Ambassador and participated in AYEA.
“This is not a red versus blue issue, not Democrat versus Republican. It’s a nonpartisan issue,” Sinnok said. “The animals, the land, the sea, the ice, they have no party. It’s a human issue.”
The plaintiffs in Sinnok v. State of Alaska are hoping their case will force the state to evaluate its relationship with the oil and gas industry.
“We are seeking policy change,” Sinnok said. “The state’s energy policy promotes extraction of fossil fuels. We need a new policy that transitions us to renewable energy.”
Seattle Update: 4pm PT (7pm EST)
Once at Seattle City Hall, demonstrators took over the steps, celebrating with bubble blowers, chants and intermittent applause. Together, they formed a sea of signs that read things like, “The Earth Used to be Cooler.”
Kshama Sawant, a Seattle City Council member, was among a number of people—from students to members of the local business community—who spoke to the energized demonstrators.
Sawant told the crowd they need more than individual change.
“We need system change,” she said. Soon, she had the crowd chanting: “System change, not climate change!”
Jenna Dimock, 32, of Seattle, sat on the City Hall steps alongside her friend, Annie Tempest, 29. Dimock said the large turnout reminded her of the Women’s March she attended. She added that the youth demonstration is an incredible call to action for adults.
The energy of the youth demonstrators was also inspiring, she said, explaining that she witnessed a group of them “take over” the train she shared with them in the morning. They were all headed to the strike. Just young people, no adults, she said.
“It was a party on the light rail this morning,” she said, laughing.
However, she admitted the strike did give her some negative emotions, too.
“I felt really inspired, but it also made me sad,” she said. “I was thinking about what I was doing at 13, which was not being concerned with [climate]. It makes me sad that this is what we brought ourselves to.”
Still, she said that while some strikes focus only on the negative, this one left her feeling hopeful.
“It really feels like we have momentum,” she said.
Not every person at City Hall participated in the full strike like Dimock. Some had other obligations—like school. Delilah Moore, 11, visited City Hall with her stepdad only after she got out of class.
Despite not participating in the walk, Moore said she spent much of her day talking about the Earth and ways to protect it. Several of her teachers talked about the global strikes, she said. She even joined a couple of friends to pick up trash Friday and is now considering starting a club to involve more of her classmates in litter collection.
Standing outside City Hall Friday, she said she was happy to see so many people her age demonstrating.
“It’s good they know what’s going on,” she said.
As the #SeattleClimateStrike winds down, two student advocates share what they’ve taken away from the experience. Read the Seattle wrap-up here: https://t.co/X5i52FhVqS. #ClimateStrike #FridaysForFuture pic.twitter.com/foXalEe2Vs
— REI (@REI) September 20, 2019
Anchorage Update: 3:30pm PT (6:30pm EST)
It’s an abnormally wet day in Anchorage. In any other community, the weather may deter people from showing up to an outdoor event. But Alaska youth turned out to the climate strike in full force, donning raincoats, umbrellas and XTRATUF boots.
Young people were adapting by hanging tarps between posts so people could write letters to leaders and put finishing touches on their signs.
Lynette Phan, 22, has provided support in helping youth organize the local strike through the Alaska Youth for Environmental Action (AYEA) group. Like her fellow Alaskans, she felt the issue of climate change was too important to stay out of the rain today.
“Alaska has the most coastline [of any state] so we’re at the forefront of climate change,” Phan said. “This issue impacts my home and my people.”
Phan, originally from Dutch Harbor, is hoping leaders will take notice of the number of people and the passion behind today’s strike.
“I hope they recognize how many of us there are,” Phan said. “We need everyone to fight; we can’t do it ourselves. And there is no time to sit and wait.”
Seattle Update: 2pm PT (5pm EST)
At 12:30pm, thousands of cheering demonstrators began their march toward Seattle City Hall. They raised their signs and voices as spectators smiled from inside buildings.
“What do we want? Green New Deal! When do we want it? Now!” The group cheered as they made their way through Seattle streets.
The group included approximately 5,000 demonstrators, according to 350.org. Many were students, but parents, business representatives, physicians and a few canines also joined the mix.
Some bystanders clapped as demonstrators walked by them. Others raised hands for a quick high five. A few simply smiled. The demonstration remained largely peaceful.
Rosemary Trimmer, of Seattle, marched alongside her 12-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter. She drove to Cal Anderson Park earlier in the day in her electric car for pre-march festivities.
“This is something I’ve believed in for 20-something years, but it’s really good my kids care enough about their future to ask me to get them out of school to come,” Trimmer said.
“It’s awesome because there are so many people,” he said.
— REI (@REI) September 20, 2019
Seattle Update: 12:15pm PT (3:15pm EST)
By 11am, students took to a stage setup in the park to voice their fears and call for action. Leilah Amon-Lucas, 14, repeated a familiar line throughout her speech: She’s scared.
“I’m a teenager. I’m 14. And I’m so scared,” she said to an enthusiastic crowd of students and adults.
“2032 will only be the third presidential cycle that I can vote in. [From then], it’ll take two more presidential cycles until I’m old enough to run for president in 2040,” she said. “What will the world look like then?”
Olivia Schroeder, 17, asked for action.
“We don’t have a vote. We do have a voice,” she said. “So right now we are doing what we need to do. We are using that voice.”
The crowd erupted in applause. Schroeder continued by sharing her passion for marine conservation and her fear over rising oceans and dying marine life.
“I am striking because I believe in the power of youth, the power of this movement and in the power of advocacy as a whole,” she said.
“The point of this movement—the point of our movement—is to take charge and fight for the planet and fight for the future.”
— REI (@REI) September 20, 2019
Boston Update: 11:30am PT (2:30pm EST)
Walking from City Hall Plaza to the Massachusetts State House, coordinated chants burst forth from the crowd, including “Climate change is real, we need a Green New Deal!” and, “When our planet is under attack, what do we do? Stand up! Fight back!”
Demonstrators reached the State House shortly before 2pm local time, where the chants continued, with throngs of people stretching down Park and Tremont Streets.
“I’ve been increasingly worried about climate change for awhile now,” said Maggie Sullivan, 34, a lawyer from Boston. “That concern has escalated: One with the 2016 election, two with scientific reports that have been coming out and three with my decision to have kids—and my beautiful daughter. I want to do everything I possibly can.”
“I find the youth enthusiasm and push for action on [climate] so moving and inspiring,” she said. “There are so many people in lower-income communities [who] are going to be disproportionately affected by this problem,” she said, stressing that she wants to take action for those communities and for, “people like my daughter who have had no role in this whatsoever and are going to be faced with it with a vengeance.”
At the State House, Sarah Duckett, a Sunrise Movement volunteer marveled at the turnout. “Absolutely unbelievable,” she said. “I kept thinking back to all of the late nights I’ve had with my organizing friends, just deep in the weeds of [what] we were planning and it’s just been so much hard work and it feels like it’s all paying off.”
— Todd Liming (@ToddLiming) September 20, 2019
Washington, D.C. Update: 11am PT (2pm EST)
District of Columbia Public Schools confirmed to the Co-op Journal that students who attend the strike will receive an excused absence if they bring in a note from a parent or guardian within five days.
“DC Public Schools encourages students to exercise their First Amendment rights but also cares deeply about students’ instruction,” DCPS Press Secretary Shayne Wells said. He confirmed that schools are not encouraging students to attend the strike but they’re not stopping them from going either.
Lucy Upton, 14, a student at The Schools Without Walls in D.C., shared her reason for coming to the strike: “We deserve a future,” she said. “We didn't mess up the world, but we should try to fix it somehow.” She thinks the climate strike will help motivate other students to speak up.
On the steps of the Capitol building, speakers continue to rally the crowds, including a group of students suing the U.S. government over climate change. The crowds remain heavy on the lawn, and the energy level is high.
— REI (@REI) September 20, 2019
Seattle Update: 10:30am PT (1:30pm EST)
At least 2,500 demonstrators—most of them students—gathered at Seattle’s Cal Anderson Park to spotlight climate change. By noon, they will march through the streets to protest climate inaction.
People donned homemade signs that said things like “Make the Earth Great Again” and “We’ll Rise with the Sea Levels.”
— Sarah Grothjan (@SarahGrothjan) September 20, 2019
Just before the action began, Athena Bautista of Seattle crouched on a flat stretch of ground to make a sign. With markers and a piece of cardboard, Bautista and her 4-year-old daughter, Konomie, wrote: “What’s Today with No Tomorrow?”
“(My daughter) is actually named after an island in Australia that may not exist in the future,” Bautista said as her daughter drew a pink flower on the sign.
Bautista, who has four kids, said she wants to show them they have the power to make a change.
Fiona McDaniel, 16, helped organize the day’s demonstrations. She said she’s happy to see so many people come together for the cause.
“Our party system is so polarized right now, and it’s affecting issues like this one, which shouldn’t be political. The climate is something everyone should care about,” McDaniel said.
Washington, D.C. Update: 10am PT (1pm EST)
— Amanda Loudin (@MissZippy1) September 20, 2019
The D.C. march has reached the steps of the Capitol. Students, parents and supporters are spread out on the lawn holding signs with slogans: “Too Hot to Handle,” “War Accelerates Climate Change,” “Green Muslims,” and many others. Depictions of climate scientists and heroes like Jane Goodall, John Muir and Wangari Maathai are also prominent.
In the midst of the protestors, a group of middle schoolers from nearby Bethesda, Maryland, spoke out about their reasons for being here: “I want to spread awareness and make a difference for future generations,” said 13-year-old Taylor Rosoff. “We only have one Earth and I want to take care of it.”
Speakers are reaching out to the crowds via bullhorns and microphones, leading chants and cheers.
Boston Update: 9:50am PT (12:50pm EST)
Still at City Hall Plaza, demonstrators hoisted signs and used noisemakers to cheer for speakers who took to the stage to rally the crowd. Saya Amelia Hajebi, 18, of the Sunrise Movement Boston addressed the crowd to draw attention to social inequity, stressing that it’s time for people to recognize the impact of climate change on communities of color, low-income groups and Indigenous lands.
“We all have a future to lose,” Amelia Hajebi said. “We don't have time to waste.”
Other speakers included City Councilor Michelle Wu, former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Community Organizer Rev. Mariama White-Hammond. Jean-Luc Pierite of the North American Indian Center of Boston also presented.
— Cassie Moreno (@cassiejmoreno) September 20, 2019
Speaking about the challenge of addressing climate change on a policy level, McCarthy said, “It’s time for us to focus on these issues, do what’s right, do what’s just. Get angry, but get moving.”
Following the speeches, at 12:30pm, the youth took the stage again to announce a dance break.
Washington, D.C. Update: 8:45am PT (11:45am EST)
Thousands of students and adults have joined together today in D.C. to march from John Marshall Park to the Capitol. Many of the youth here have been part of similar strikes over the past year, but this is the biggest of its kind to date. “I hope that we can make people see that climate change is real and happening as we speak,” says Alyssa Reed, 15, of Westerville, Ohio. Reed traveled six hours from her home with her mother to be part of a larger movement.
— REI (@REI) September 20, 2019
Carrying signs, wearing T-shirts with climate-related slogans and moving en masse, the demonstrators are making their way to the Capitol, where speakers will address the crowds in the coming hours.
Boston Update: 7:45am PT (10:45am EST)
An hour before speakers are scheduled to begin presenting at a rally on Boston’s City Hall Plaza, crowds stretched across the plaza. Hundreds of young people and adults standing shoulder to shoulder raised signs and chanted along with climate strike organizers.
Audrey Lin, 18, a Boston strike organizer with the Sunrise Movement, was congregating with the other coordinators in her group. “I’ve been involved in Sunrise Movement Boston for the past year and a half or so but I didn’t start planning climate strikes until about May,” she said.
After organizing two strikes earlier this year at the Massachusetts State House, Lin and her peers began planning for the September 20 strike. “It’s our generation that’s going to be most affected by the decisions that are made right now,” she said. “I think it’s really important that young people are in the conversation because it’s our futures on the line.”
“We’re here right now and our entire organizing team is under the age of 20. Young people really are capable and fully able to be creating change and leading that change.”
Dana Hatic, Amanda Loudin, Sarah Grothjan and Caitlin Goettler contributed to this report.