DOWNTOWN – Kids have been skipping school as long as school has been around. But on Friday they skipped out to make a case for the environment.
Following the lead of Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old activist who has skipped school each Friday since August 2018 to sit outside the Swedish parliament, an estimated 1 million students gathered in protests around the world to demand stronger action to combat climate change. Studies have surfaced from climate change scientists, from the International Panel on Climate Change to the United Nations, that suggest we have about 12 years to reverse the effects of climate change if we want to ensure the planet will be livable for future generations.
Noah Wright, 17, one of the co-leads for the protest in St. Louis, said that when he looked up information about the strikes across the world, not one protest had been planned in Missouri, so he decided to get involved himself.
He and co-lead Fatima Bucino, 20, agreed that saving the environment was incredibly important to their generation.
“Not only do I feel that heavy responsibility, our elders and political leaders have devastated our environment so bad that they didn’t even think about it in the way that they were leaving us land, they were borrowing it…,” said Bucino, who describes herself as an activist and an artist. “They’ve still refused to act on it, and that’s why we’re here.”
The protesters who gathered outside the Old Courthouse were a mix of young and old of varying backgrounds, but the featured speakers were almost all high school and college age.
One activist in the crowd, Leah Jung, 27, thought this would be a benefit to the cause.
“I think that it’s easy to write adults off, especially with the way we shame civil disobedience,” she said, recounting the number of times she has been told “Get a job” by onlookers at various protests.
It’s harder to ignore children, she said.
The speakers took turns rousing the crowd, decrying the inaction of current politicians and reiterating the immediacy of the climate crisis. At times, the protest got emotional, as when Ben Eisenberg, from the Sunrise Movement, took the megaphone.
“I skipped the second half of the school day to be here,” said Eisenberg, who teaches at a preschool, “and when the kids asked me why I left, I didn’t really know what to tell them. I didn’t know how to explain to a 4 year old that they might not have a planet to live on when they get older.”
Others spoke to the crowd about a variety of climate-related topics, including veganism, voting out politicians who do not fight for climate change reform, and reforming systems from the local level.
But of all the speeches, it was the youngest voice that seemed to sum up the theme of the strike. Lucy Shayakhmetova, 9, was the last to speak before the group began their march. Her mom held up her speech, written down on perfectly ordinary lined notebook paper, for her to recite.
In the plain language of a third grader, she warned the crowd that ignoring climate change would not only affect her generation but cause animals to go extinct and reefs to disappear.
When asked why she decided to skip school to come to the strike, Lucy’s answer was simple.
“It just feels really important to me,” she said.