How did the strike come to be?
Climate strikes are happening all over the world, but I’m helping organize the one across the United States. I was contacted by one of the other co-founders, Haven Coleman, and she asked me if I wanted to help lead my state via Instagram DM… I got involved with them in late January and we’ve just been pulling state leads and talking to people ever since.”
What are you hoping comes out of the strike?
I’m hoping a lot of things. I just want that awareness and education — I want people to understand the intense emergency of climate change, and that young people aren’t really going to be backing down. And also I want folks to feel…threatened enough to take climate action.”
It’s now or never, you know? I don’t the specifics on why March 15th was chosen, but I do know that according to the IFCC report, we have about 11 years…and so we really have to act now, or we won’t have a future tomorrow.
What does the climate strike mean to your hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota?
We have really intense air pollution, especially north Minneapolis, we have a whole bunch of factories up there. And also in my home state we have a pipeline being built, Line 3, and it goes straight through indigenous greenland and wild rice beds. That pipeline isn’t going to just effect my state or my hometown, but it’s going to effect the entire country. So that’s tons and tons of oil being pumped into our ground; oil spills are a lot more prominent when they start drilling. [There’s also] things like the polar vortex, having extreme weather conditions in Minnesota.”
How are you balancing this with schoolwork and being a teenager?
Balancing is one of the hardest things. I’ve just been trying to go as fast as possible. I spend some days…over the weekend, I canceled calls for a while just so I could focus on homework. The end of the quarter for me is in about two weeks, so after March 15 it’s kind of go-time to quickly catch up before the end of the quarter. I’ve just been communicating with my parents and my teachers as much as possible, letting them know. They’re all aware.”
What’s an average day like in terms of planning?
I go to school, and then I answer emails throughout the day. And then I head over to my house. I have calls planned from about 4pm to 10pm, and I’ll be answering emails, and some time in there eat dinner and do homework.”
What do you hope the takeaway is for people, especially youth, not involved in the strike?
I would say that it’s your life too, in that climate change effects all of us. In that you can stay apathetic all you want, but as it gets worse and worse, it’s going to get worse and worse for you, too. It’s in the hands of all of us to take action.”
Omar is part of a wave of Democratic lawmakers who came into office in the midterm elections. She has proven to be a polarizing representative, but also an inspiring one for many young people who support the Green New Deal.
She told young protesters American’s should not, “prioritize corporate interests over the health of all our communities.”
“Yes, we are at a dark moment in our history, but we are the light that can bring change,” she said. Americans “must bear” responsibility for climate change because of the large share of carbon dioxide the west emits into the atmosphere.
“We must end the extraction of the dirtiest fossil fuel in the world and keep it in the ground,” she said.
From my colleague Adrian Horton, here’s an interview with Marcela Mulholland, a 21-year-old student organizer at University of Florida in Gainesville, where students are striking. They will join student activists from a local high school, who will protest in front of city hall.
You can read more about Mulholland and fellow organizers at the Sunrise Movement here.
It’s been really cool to work in conjunction with high schoolers and college students on this issue — it really speaks to how this is a generational issue. It’s going to effect young people the most, because we have to grow up on this planet. So yeah, there’s the strike happening during the day on University of Florida campus and then in the afternoon, there is one happening with high schoolers, college students and the Gainesville community at large.”
Why now? Why March 2019?
So a few months ago, the United Nations intergovernmental panel on climate change released a report that essentially sounded the alarm — they released it in 2018 and they said we had 12 years but now we have 11 years to drastically cut our greenhouse gas emissions if we want to avoid the most catastrophic global warming.
When that report came out – for me personally – I already believed in climate change and was very involved in the climate movement, but it was still a punch in the gut. To just see it in writing yet again, reiterated by the world’s leading climate scientists that we really are spiraling toward a catastrophic future that could end civilization as we know it if we don’t act within the next few years, that really for me… made me double down on my commitment to this movement.
What does this strike mean to your hometown?
I was born and raised in south Florida, and when I was in high school my family moved to Fort Lauderdale, which is a coastal community. We lived in an apartment building that was just two blocks away from the beach. When I was living there, I didn’t really know about global climate change, or sea level rise, or these kind of technical terms. I just knew that dealing with hurricanes was a regular part of my experience growing up.
I also started to notice that these weird things would happen, like the street in front of my house would flood when there were storms or even sometimes when it wasn’t raining. It’s interesting, because the people who lived in this community that’s going to be directly impacted by climate change, I don’t feel like we talked about it very much. We all just adapted to the circumstances — local businesses would have to put up sandbags, and people were becoming experts on the tidal patterns because it effected their everyday lives…and then I went to college and learned about climate change and saw my personal experiences in this global context. And then Trump was elected, which was a radicalizing experience, and here I am.”
What this strike and what this movement more broadly means for my hometown is that it gives us a sense of hope, that we don’t actually have to be facing 6-8 feet of flooding by the end of the century, that there are people who care about my community’s well-being and other community’s like mine, and [who] value our needs and our well-being over the interests of corporate polluters and fossil fuel billionaires and CEOs who have bought out our politicians. And so much of our communities on the front line of this crisis need is more renewable energy and a Green New Deal, but what we really need in more of a spiritual sense is hope, and this strike really provides that.”
Anything else you want people to know or wish I had asked?
If there are any young people who are reading this and also feel very overwhelmed and very sad about the trajectory that our planet is on right now, I would encourage them to choose to get involved with the climate movement because I have found that there’s no better way to find hope and meaning in this trying time than working alongside fellow people who share my grief for the world, and I would love to be in the movement along side them.”
The next wave of student strikes should be happening now in the central time zone, and we will feature those pictures here once they come in.
For the meantime, check out the Washington DC rally livestreamed here.
Once more from Washington DC, Guardian US climate reporter Emily Holden reports as students prepare for a 12pm ET rally, students are trickling in “from all directions”, to join the roughly 250 already present.
There was also a sweet moment while she was there – a 14-year-old girl celebrated her birthday at the Youth Climate Strikes. She said some of her teachers didn’t want her to be absent from class, but she felt the strike was too critical to miss.
“This is really important here because some of the most important people make the decisions here, and we really need influence them,” said Lili Moresi, 14, from Maryland.