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Faced with an uncertain future, young climate activists take to the streets

Organizers of Friday’s youth climate strike run to catch an Orange Line train, where they’ll hand out fliers and sing to draw attention to the event.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

The kids who are determined to save the planet were mostly born after 2000. They don’t have time to sleep in and they forget to eat and they log 15-hour workdays. They’d like to talk policy. They want you to join them.

For the past few months, a small group of high school students has been organizing a massive climate strike in Boston, part of a global series of actions ahead of a major United Nations climate summit in New York City. They hope thousands of students will join them Friday morning, walking out of their classrooms to push for more aggressive action on climate change, including a Massachusetts Green New Deal. The worldwide demonstrations were initially inspired by Greta Thunberg , the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, who recently sailed to New York for the summit.


Faced with rising seas and an uncertain future, the kids in Boston and their peers around the world agree: The only reasonable response to impending catastrophe is to stop what you are doing and take to the streets.

“Thinking, ‘Oh it won’t happen to us, oh don’t worry, someone will save us’ is the wrong way to think,” said Simon Chernow, a 16-year-old junior at Boston Latin Academy who is helping to organize the Boston strike. “The only people who are going to save us are ourselves.”

The strike will begin at 10 a.m. in City Hall Plaza; students from elementary, middle, and high school, as well as some colleges, will converge to listen to speakers including Gina McCarthy, head of the Environmental Protection Agency under Barack Obama, and City Councilor Michelle Wu before marching to the State House. The superintendent of Boston Public Schools told parents this week that students could get excused absences to attend the strike.

Emily Trelstad, 17, of Brookline (left), Amalia Hochman, 17, of Somerville, and Audrey Lin, 18, of Watertown pass out fliers on a rush hour train to inform the public of the Sept. 20 youth climate strike in Boston.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

And though the Boston rally will probably draw the biggest crowds, organizers have planned dozens of events across the state, from a kids’ speak-out in Truro to an afternoon strike in Williamstown. Some companies, including Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s, will close their stores.


For the Boston kids organizing the strike, the daunting task of saving the planet can sometimes seem to be made up almost wholly of logistics. They have spent hours applying for permits, drawing up a detailed budget (then cutting it in half), negotiating prices with Throne Depot (a portable toilet company), training dozens of marshals, designing a logo (bold letters inside a black and white sunflower), enlisting speakers, writing press releases, and painting enormous banners.

But beyond those efforts, the students are also waging a philosophical battle, attempting to convince both their peers and their elders that there is actual hope of reversing the climate crisis before it’s too late. They often refer to a 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change , which said that in order to hold off further global warming, greenhouse pollution levels must fall by 45 percent by 2030 — 11 years away. That length of time has become a mantra to the young activists.

“We still have 11 years,” said Saya Ameli Hajebi, a 17-year-old senior at Brookline High who will be speaking at the strike. “We better make those 11 years count.”

Born in Tehran, Hajebi moved to Boston when she was 9, and now lives with her mother, younger brother, and a large rabbit named Fandogh in a two-bedroom apartment in Brookline. When she started high school, she was busy: She liked diving and doing parkour and taking apart her computer to rebuild it better. Hajebi didn’t intend to join her school’s environmental club.


“We’re going to just sit around a table and complain. What’s the point?” she said. But the club’s adviser kept prodding her, so finally she showed up to a meeting. She was surprised by what she found there: students were drafting a resolution for a 3-cent gas tax in Brookline.

Hajebi began working on the proposal, and the next summer she joined Sunrise, a hub of youth climate activism. Her mother initially worried about her becoming an activist, fearing it might be dangerous to be a visible troublemaker, as it was back in Tehran. But last December, with her mother’s blessing, Hajebi participated in a sit-in at Nancy Pelosi’s office in Washington, D.C.

Saya Ameli Hajebi, 17, of Brookline (left) grew up in Tehran and joined an environmental club her freshman year at Brookline High. Amalia Hochman, 17 of Somerville (right) became an activist after the Parkland shooting. They’re both now helping to lead the climate strike in Boston.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

When she considers the grand notion of climate change, she often thinks about a single mountain, the Damavand, in Iran.

“It’s got a snowcap, and it’s got this huge field of bright red, fiery flowers right in front. I’ve never been there,” Hajebi said. “I was just like, man, I really don’t want those flowers to die. I really want to hike that mountain someday.”

Other students learned how to organize by throwing themselves into other issues first. Amalia Hochman was a relatively new student at Somerville High on the day of the Parkland school shooting in 2018. That night, scrolling through her phone before going to bed, she saw a post on Snapchat from another student at her school: “We have to organize. Let’s go on strike. Everybody meet in the library after school.”


Soon Hochman, who is now 17, was walking out of class every Wednesday, agitating with other students for a statewide “red flag” bill that would temporarily remove guns from people considered dangerous to themselves or others. Hochman said she often forgot to eat and couldn’t keep up with her schoolwork — but she was also ecstatic. The bill was signed into law in the summer of 2018.

“I never felt like I had worked for something that really mattered before,” Hochman said. She had seen how a small group of students who initially had no idea what they were doing could actually help change the law.

In her junior year, she took an environmental science class and came to believe that the fossil fuel companies were not so different from the gun companies she and her peers had battled. In both cases, Hochman saw major corporations profiting from something dangerous and using those profits to support national policies that protected them.

“It seemed like a similar fight,” she said. “There are these people who care more about money than they do about people.”

She helped to organize three smaller climate strikes in the spring, and now is one of two general coordinators of Friday’s strike.


“Ideally you get to grow up and be a kid and have a life,” Hochman said. But, she added, “It just doesn’t seem like an option to me to not do something.”

Sarah Duckette and Owen Woodcock, both of Jamaica Plain, prepared for a meeting of Sunrise, an organization focused on youth climate activism.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

On a recent evening during rush hour, Hochman and three other student activists boarded an Orange Line train to Forest Hills. They were wearing Birkenstocks and jean shorts and carrying backpacks, and they were giddy, experimenting with a new type of outreach where they sang a song about the upcoming strike and passed out fliers on the train. It required a thrilling disruption of business as usual — an in-your-face version of the strike from school.

“The first time we did it, I was terrified,” Hochman said.

Now, the train they boarded was so crowded with commuters that the students could barely move.

“This is un-ideal,” Hochman whispered.

Audrey Lin, an 18-year-old from Watertown who is also a general coordinator of the strike, had printed out hundreds of fliers to hand out as they walked the length of the train. But they were walled in by a mass of commuters who were surely not eager to hear a song.

“Should we do it?” Lin asked, as riders jostled them. “Right now?”

There wasn’t much time: Soon the train would pull in and they would lose their chance. So Lin began to sing, and the others quickly joined in, their voices rising bright and defiant above the crowd.

Zoe Greenberg can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @zoegberg.