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Teen Activists Worldwide Prepare to Strike for Climate Led by Greta Thunberg
The 16-year-old Swedish high school student speaks for millions of angry youth around the world who fear for their future as the planet warms.
By Kristoffer Tigue, Sep 19, 2019
Greta Thunberg (center), shown here at a climate protest in Berlin in March, has helped launch a global youth movement calling for action on climate change. Credit: Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images
NEW YORK — Alessandro Dal Bon, a 15-year-old Manhattan high school student, is a newly minted organizer in a fast-growing global youth movement that's hoping to pull off the largest climate protest the world has ever seen, with demonstrations planned Friday in 120 countries and all 50 states.
With the New York City public school system having told its 1.1 million students that their absences will be excused if they participate in the strike, there is no telling how large the protest could be in New York alone. Dal Bon and other teens say they are scared by a rapidly warming planet and deeply concerned over what the future may bring. They know that the climate damage from greenhouse gas emissions—and the costs—will only grow if the world doesn't act now.
Like many others, Dal Bon was inspired by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who has galvanized the youth movement and is scheduled to lead a rally in New York on Friday. Sign up for InsideClimate News Weekly Our stories. Your inbox. Every weekend.
At a congressional hearing this week, she submitted a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and asked lawmakers to listen to the scientists rather than her own written testimony. On Monday, she addresses the United Nations Climate Summit. Climate Activist Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, said he's seeing people organizing around Friday's global climate strike in ways he's never seen before.
The Global Climate Strike coalition estimated that "millions" of people would take to the streets on Friday. "I've had the privilege of being part of every big climate mobilization that there has been," McKibben said. "So, I think I'm in a position to say that this climate strike is going to be the biggest day of climate action that Earth has yet seen."
Charts: What Does the Climate Future Look Like for Today's Teens?
The movement's momentum has already pushed presidential candidates to address climate change much more explicitly than in the past, as they demonstrated two weeks ago during an unprecedented seven-hour town hall dedicated to climate change and broadcast live on CNN. And some political scientists believe that energy could transform into a powerful 2020 voting bloc, with many polls showing climate change and health care as the top two issues among Democratic voters.
Dal Bon, who won't be old enough to vote next year, still believes his voice can help make a difference by continuing to push policymakers to take action. "We're not the ones saying climate change is a problem. It's the science saying that," said Dal Bon, who moved to the U.S. last year after living in Italy, Switzerland and Argentina.
"We want to be in the newspapers, we want to be in the headlines, until the politicians are forced to hear us." Moving the Needle on Climate Progress In the past year, local chapters of Thunberg's Fridays for Future movement have sprung up in major cities around the world. In the U.S., the Sunrise Movement, led by young adults, has also been forcing politicians to publicly rethink their policies on climate change.
The young U.S. activists have succeeded in pushing much of the 2020 Democratic field to the left on climate issues, including getting candidates to pledge to ban fracking and impose a carbon tax.
The Green New Deal they have promoted calls for an all-encompassing, national commitment to get to 100 percent clean energy within 10 years, a public-works program with good-paying federal jobs, and a just transition for workers and polluted communities.
"The things that we've been calling for years—keeping fossil fuel in the ground, banning fracking—are now the policy positions of the leading candidates for the president of the United States," McKibben said. "That's a big shift." Greta Thunberg, who launched the Fridays for Future movement, and Jamie Margolin, co-founder of This Is Zero Hour, testify before a congressional committee on Sept. 18, 2019. Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Greta Thunberg, who launched the Fridays for Future movement, and Jamie Margolin, co-founder of This Is Zero Hour, testified before a U.S. congressional committee on Sept. 18, 2019. Thunberg submitted an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report and urged members of Congress to read it and listen to the scientists. Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images
It's more than just spreading awareness, said Cynthia Leung, a 15-year-old climate activist from New York. Leung is pressuring her legislators to amend a state law that governs health education in schools to include how climate change is affecting health. "Young people can be involved in activism in more ways than just organizing and attending rallies," Leung said.
"They can also do what I'm trying to do, introducing policy and basically lobby for legislation." Youth Activism Propelled By Trump Backlash Polls show an increasing awareness and worry about climate change among teens. Most American teens are frightened by climate change, according to a new Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, and 1 in 4 are taking action. University of Maryland researcher Dana Fisher attributed the heavy youth involvement in today's climate movement—at least in the U.S.—to the momentum that began with protests surrounding the election of President Donald Trump.
A quarter of the youth activists Fisher surveyed recently reported that their first protest experience was tied to opposition to Trump. She found that nearly half had participated in the 2018 national school walkout against gun violence, and nearly half in the 2017 Women's March, a worldwide protest after the inauguration of Trump, who many viewed as an opponent of women's rights.
"What we have is ... a bunch of young people who originally cut their teeth in the resistance," Fisher said. "And now these young people are focusing specifically on climate change." Intersecting Goals with Social Justice Climate change is seen by many people as an issue that intersects with nearly every aspect of society, from infrastructure and energy to homeownership and unemployment.
After Superstorm Sandy hit the New York City region in 2012, many of the city's poorest residents have struggled to recover. Patrick Houston, an organizer with New York Communities for Change, said his group's work, which started out focused solely on social justice, inevitably began including climate change, particularly among their New York constituency with ties to Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Social justice, in turn, has been a key driver of youth involvement in climate change organizing. "Vulnerable communities should be leading the movement on the climate crisis," said Mitzi Tan, a 21-year-old activist from Quezon City in the Philippines who joined the conference call with McKibben, "because we're the ones most affected by it."
The brutal genocidal campaign of mass murder, rape and enslavement began five years ago on August 3, 2014. Today, the Women Refugees Advocacy Project held a ceremony in Vancouver to demand justice for the Yazidi.
Nadia Murad was 21 in the summer of 2014 when ISIS militants attacked her Yazidi village in northern Iraq, close to the border with Syria. The militants killed those who refused to convert to Islam, including six of her brothers and her mother.
According to media reports, after being captured, Murad was taken to Mosul, where she was forced to convert to Islam and endured three months as a sex slave at the hands of the militants. She was bought and sold several times and subjected to sexual and physical abuse during her captivity.
She tried to escape, but was immediately caught by one of the guards, she told the BBC. Under their rules, she said, a captured woman became a spoil of war if she was caught trying to escape. She would be put in a cell and raped by all the men in the compound. The militants called this practice “sexual jihad.”
“Referring to the thousands of women still in ISIS’ grip, Nadia Murad added: ‘It is inconceivable that the conscience of the leaders of 195 countries around the world is not mobilized to liberate these girls.'”
A Muslim family that had no connection with ISIS helped Murad escape. She managed to cross into Iraqi Kurdistan and found refuge in camps with other Yazidis. She later reached Europe and now lives in Germany.
Since winning her freedom, Murad has campaigned for the thousands of women who are still believed to be held captive by ISIS.
She was awarded the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize by the Council of Europe in 2016, and called for an international court to judge crimes committed by ISIS in her acceptance speech in Strasbourg, France.
That same year, Murad also was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament. She was named the United Nations’ first goodwill ambassador for survivors of human trafficking later that year.
In October of this year, Murad was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
“A woman being raped on a battlefield in Mosul should get as much attention as a woman being raped in a hotel room in New York City.”
Despite all that, Murad still hasn’t become a household name in the United States. As The World Tribune reported after her victory, “News that Yazidi sex slave survivor Nadia Murad has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war barely registered on the American media radar screen.”
Because she’s gone largely unnoticed in America in the era of #MeToo, if I were editor of Time magazine, Murad would have been my choice for Person of the Year.
Murad offers a unique opportunity for the #MeToo movement to become more global. Among the things I love about the movement is that it wasn’t a flash in the pan. Since it exploded on the scene over a year ago, more and more victims of sexual abuse have felt free to speak out. A crucial conversation has begun. Justice, however halting, is being served. The cause is now ingrained in our national consciousness.
Murad’s story takes the issue of sexual abuse from the home and workplace to regions of armed conflict. It expands the #MeToo movement internationally to where it is sorely needed.
In her address after receiving the Nobel Prize, as reported in The New York Times, Murad condemned “the international community’s indifference to wartime sexual violence and pleaded for new efforts to arrest or punish those responsible.”
“Thank you very much for this honor,” she said, “but the fact remains that the only prize in the world that can restore our dignity is justice and the prosecution of criminals.”
Referring to the thousands of women still in ISIS’ grip, Murad added: “It is inconceivable that the conscience of the leaders of 195 countries around the world is not mobilized to liberate these girls. What if they were a commercial deal, an oil field or a shipment of weapons? Most certainly, no efforts would be spared to liberate them.”
We like to think of globalism in terms of economic interdependence and the protection of the environment, which are hugely important. But justice for victims of sexual abuse ought to be another pillar of globalism. A woman being raped on a battlefield in Mosul should get as much attention as a woman being raped in a hotel room in New York City.
As Murad told the Jewish Journal in an interview last year, “When ISIS is held accountable, when my people are protected, when the women are freed and my people live with dignity, I will be happy then.”
Accountability. Protection. Freedom. Dignity. Happiness. Not a bad list for 2019.
Happy New Year.
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