March 20, 2019

Students Strike For Climate Action, Join Global Movement

“THIS IS OUR WORLD”: About 70 students from Princeton schools and Princeton University participated in Friday’s Youth Climate Action Strike, starting in Hinds Plaza and proceeding up Witherspoon Street to Nassau Hall. As part of an international day of demonstrations, the students demanded attention to youth voices and opinions on climate action and a more vigorous response to climate change. (Photo by Blessing Jegede)

By Donald Gilpin

Urging action to combat climate change, more than 40 Princeton High School students, joined by about a dozen middle school and elementary school students and about 15 more from Princeton University, gathered in Hinds Plaza then marched to Nassau Hall last Friday.

The demonstrators, seeking to draw attention to youth voices and opinions on climate change and participate in the international strike, carried signs urging such messages as “This Is Our World,” “Stop Global Warming,” “You Are Stealing Our Future,” and “Make Earth Cool Again.”

In a collaboration between Princeton High School Democrats in Action (DIA) and various Princeton University climate groups, the demonstrators made phone calls, collected petition signatures, and wrote letters to U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, urging him to support the Green New Deal. District 12 Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman and N.J. U.S. Senator Cory Booker are both co-sponsors of the Green New Deal, but Menendez has not signed on.

“Climate change is one of the biggest issues facing my generation,” said PHS junior Ella Norman, vice president of DIA and lead organizer of this Youth Climate Action Strike. “Climate change has disproportionately hurt areas with higher populations of people of color and people who are less wealthy and powerful.”

Referring to environmental disasters in Puerto Rico and Flint, Michigan, Norman noted, “My generation sees this as an injustice. Many of us are too young to vote and too young to hold office. However, by the time our generation becomes old enough to do these things, it will be too late.”

She continued, “Now is the time to pass radical climate action legislation, such as the Green New Deal, in order to ensure that our future planet will be a healthy and habitable place for all members of my generation and future generations.”

PHS Principal Gary Snyder, though not willing to mitigate the importance of student attendance or condone the class cuts, expressed support for the students participating in the strike. “The usual procedure of parent notification and
follow-up with student occurs for a class absence,” he wrote in an email.

Acknowledging that significant learning often takes place outside the walls of the school, Snyder continued, “We teach and aspire for our young people to be critical thinkers, problem-solvers, communicators, networkers, and activists for a better world, so when they tell us that they want to take an informed stance on an important issue and have their voices heard, we try to guide, advise, and support them in a way that lets them know we care, but without stifling their voices. This generation of high school students is knowledgeable and active in making its positions known.”

In an email Monday, Norman wrote, “I was very happy and impressed with how many young people came to the protest. I hope that our rally energized everyone who came and encouraged them to take ownership of the climate action movement in their own lives. Young people are often shut down when talking about climate change because we’re ‘too young to understand the science.’ But that shouldn’t stop us from being part of the conversation. It’s enough for us to know that climate change is an urgent issue that our society needs to address now.”

First inspired by a 16-year-old Swedish girl named Greta Thunberg, student climate action protests have spread across Europe in the last several months, and last Friday thousands turned out around the globe, dramatizing a generation gap in attitudes towards the threat of climate change.