At 10:45 on Friday morning, students at Brookline High School were supposed to switch classes — but instead the doors swung open and hundreds of teenagers carrying signs streamed down the stairs. They were leaving school, off to join the youth climate strike, along with millions of schoolchildren around the world.
The buzz in the air was palpable, the excitement of an off-campus field trip combined with the energy of the student cheering section at a football game — if all of that took place against an approaching apocalypse.
“I think a lot about the sit-ins in the 1950s and ’60s,” said Ifeamaka Richardson, a 17-year-old senior at Brookline High, as she waited for the train with her classmates. She said she thought of how those young activists were beaten and shouted down, but still took to the streets. They inspired her. And, Richardson said, “This is the problem of our times.”
Thousands of young people converged on Boston’s City Hall Plaza to push for more aggressive action on climate change, part of the “Global Climate Strike’’ initially inspired by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish activist who spoke on Friday in New York.
More than 800 actions took place around the world in advance of a major United Nations climate summit, with people rallying from Johannesburg to Helsinki. In Berlin, organizers said 80,000 people gathered in front of the Brandenburg Gate; in the Afghan capital of Kabul, about 100 young people marched, flanked by armed guards and led by a group of young women carrying a banner that read “Fridays for Future,” the slogan Thunberg used for her strikes last year.
Protesters marched throughout the United States, as well, gathering in New York, Washington, Miami, Providence, and elsewhere.
“We can stop this from happening,” said Sabrina Randall, a St. Mary Academy sophomore who lives in Johnston, R.I. “The future for politicians is 15 years, but we need something to get us through 50, 60, 70 years. We don’t need temporary solutions.”
The Brookline students were delighted to join their global peers. They crowded the nearby train station, cheered when a trolley arrived, rushed it, completely filled it, and cheered again when it pulled away. Some adults applauded when the students boarded.
“Like Greta Thunberg said, why should we be in school learning for a future we may not have?” said Oona Hall, 14, a freshman at Brookline. She and her friend Camille Jordan, 14, stuck close together on their way to the rally. Jordan said “the consequences are really big” for skipping school, but the strike was too important to miss.
The Boston strike was planned entirely by people under the age of 20, and the event had a playful spirit. Midway through the rally, the organizers played Beyonce’s “Love on Top,” and the student activists took a break from their speeches and chants to dance.
But the underlying, deadly serious message of the strike was that there is no time to waste in addressing climate change. Activists were particularly pushing for the passage of a Massachusetts Green New Deal — when a speaker mentioned that Senator Edward Markey, the cosponsor of a Green New Deal resolution with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, was in the audience, the young people roared their approval. The Green New Deal proposes a massive undertaking by the federal government to transition the economy to 100 percent clean, renewable energy, and to provide job training and new economic development for people whose current jobs rely on fossil fuels.
Much younger children also participated in the strike, gripping their own signs and espousing their own reasons for joining.
“Boston’s a harbor city,” said Eliza James, 11, who had walked out of her fifth grade classroom at the Curley School in Jamaica Plain to join the strike (with her parents’ permission). “I was listening to a TED Talk by Greta Thunberg” on mass extinction, James said, and it had inspired her to join the movement. “She was just one girl, and she got in headlines all over the world.”
Her friend Lyra Kirouac, 10, agreed. She said she wasn’t just marching for herself.
“My brother is at school right now, but I’m doing this for him,” said Kirouac. Her brother is 8.
The students made clear that the issue of climate change was not simply the concern of a few privileged activists.
“Let me tell you what environmental justice is and will be here in Massachusetts,” said Ahria Ilyas, an 18-year-old freshman at Suffolk University, from the stage. “Environmental justice is advocating for people of color, especially young people of color, to have access to the same resources and clean energy that high-end and gentrifying neighborhoods have handed to them.”
Mayor Martin J. Walsh also addressed the crowd, flanked by the new superintendent of the Boston Public Schools, Brenda Cassellius, who told parents earlier this week that students could be excused from school for the strike. Cambridge schools e-mailed parents a detailed breakdown of the schedule for the march.
Across the country, corporations like Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s shut their stores in support of the strike. Sarah Levy, who owns the low-waste cleaning supply store Cleenland in Cambridge, also shuttered her shop to join the kids.
“I think we’re at a point where we need to stop accepting what’s unacceptable and part of that is disrupting business as usual,” Levy said.
After the rally at City Hall, the young activists surged down Tremont Street to the State House, where they filled the halls. Chants of “Green New Deal” floated above the golden dome throughout the afternoon.