In a similar way, this year young people will attempt to settle the debt their owed by approaching our world leaders with a massive global climate strike. Young people will walk out of school to demand world leaders and businesses cooperate with the science community's recommendations.
Allied with 16 major environmental and youth empowerment organizations, the youth climate strike will be a sight to behold.
I am so proud to see young people enlivening the climate change debate today. To prevent the ultimate climate catastrophe, we have to act quickly and in widespread fashion. It will require the dismantling of many industries, especially our relationships with plastics and petroleum.
A cynic might read the bios of the leaders of the youth climate march and see young children about to be crushed by impossibility. But I know that the only people who have ever seen the true potential of our communities have been teenagers, and that they have changed the world many times in the past.
I took a look at the website today to get excited for the global walk out on Friday. The biographies of the organizers are simultaneously so simple, so sophisticated and so clear.
Haven Coleman, 12, wrote, "My parents have always taught me that if there’s a problem, I can fix it. Growing up with parents who supported my ideas I grew up into a ‘let’s do it’ kind of person. I’ve always been vocal about injustices, but climate change has become my focus the past three years. I help groups with furthering their initiatives, by organizing, speaking and showing up."
Feliquan Charlemagne, 17 year, said, "Climate change has always been an issue that’s personal to me. Born on a small island in the Caribbean called St. Thomas, I was forced to immigrate to the U.S. at a very young age due to an already subpar economy that was continuously being destabilized more and more by the climate crisis. From hurricanes to rising tides, the effects of climate change are already all too familiar to me. As a Floridian, my peninsula will literally end up as the Florida Sea if we don’t act.
And last but not least,” Charlemagne continued, “as a young person, this is the future me and my children will have to live in. This is why I am a part of US Youth Climate Strike."
When I worked at the Tenement Museum, my most important takeaway was that history has often been changed by teenagers. Young people have a clarity that many of us lose in our increasingly cynical and often myopic perspectives as we grow older.
The strikes in New York City that lead to workers rights and tenants rights were, by and large, led by teenage girls. Their impulse to question authority, their still fresh grasp on the boundlessness of human possibility, and the seeds of their own personal development in it's experimental phase all amount to a strong sense of injustice and an experimental grasp on courage.
I offer you, as an example, the story of Clara Lemlich, a teenager who lived 100 years ago. She grew up in a time and place, the Ukraine, where it was difficult for girls to receive a proper education. She learned to read by sneaking books into her house and earned money sewing button holes.
She came to the United States at age 17, in 1903, to flee the pogroms that were threatening her family. By 1905, she was a member of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and part of a labor force that was 70 perceny women, mostly under the age of 20 and mostly immigrant.
The working conditions were awful. The women often had to have a floor manager accompany them to the bathroom, they were allowed a very short break for lunch and worked six days a week, 12 hours a day.
To ensure that the girls weren't taking unsupervised breaks, the doors were often locked. Male union organizers would often exclude women from organizing efforts, even though the treatment was frequently worse for women and women made up the bulk of the labor force.
Life at work was dull, painful, unfair and oppressive. Life at home was exhausted and impoverished. There was not a bright future for many of these young people.
In 1909, Clara Lemlich finally had enough. She and her friends organized women workers across the network of garment factories. She convinced 20,000 women to participate. The strike lasted four months and resulted in better pay, shorter hours, and equal treatment of workers, something that had seemed impossible.
Young people have changed our world before, and I hope we follow them out into the streets on March 15.