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Youth To Protest In Manhattan To Stop Climate Change


Listen to the scientists. That's what 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg told members of Congress yesterday. She is taking that message to New York tomorrow. She'll join thousands of students who are expected to walk out of school and march through Lower Manhattan demanding global action to stop climate change. Millions of young people around the world are also expected to join. Their goal is to make a statement ahead of next Monday's U.N. Climate Action Summit. WNYC's Gwynne Hogan reports the protest has been a long time in the making.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTEST ORGANIZER: Hello, everybody, and welcome to our second-to-last open planning meeting before the strike.


GWYNNE HOGAN, BYLINE: It's early September, nine days before the march, and about 60 high schoolers are in rows of folding chairs in an old church basement on the Upper West Side. In the front of the room, there are a dozen other organizers. They've been meeting like this for several months.

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Eighteen-year-old Shiv Sowen (ph) from Edison, N.J., puts a question to the room.

SHIV SOWEN: Yeah. Wait - also, just a quick question - how many of you is this your first meeting? I just want - oh, my God.


HOGAN: About half the kids raised their hands.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTEST ORGANIZER: I love how many people we have every week.

SOWEN: Every week.


HOGAN: New York City's local chapter of Fridays For Future started small last December, just a few kids skipping class once a week to protest outside the United Nations. They were inspired by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who started protesting in front of the Swedish Parliament over a year ago. But this show of hands tells organizers their little movement is picking up steam. It's been months of planning, fundraising, promoting, email blasting, and navigating New York City's thankless bureaucracy.

AZALEA DANES: I've been meeting with the comptroller and talking a lot with the mayor's office to put pressure on the Department of Education so that the Department of Education grants amnesty for every single New York City student who wants to strike. So...


HOGAN: That was 16-year-old organizer Azalea Danes. Danes and the other students organizing New York City's rally say they're putting in all this calculated energy for a variety of reasons. For Danes, it was flooding during Hurricane Sandy.

AZALEA: I remember very, very clearly being without power for a week and being without electricity and my dad frantically cooking and my mom being on the phone with FEMA for hurricane relief.

HOGAN: Others have asthma and are concerned about air quality. Some experienced droughts, floods or wildfires in other places before moving here. They are all alarmed by the warming planet and frustrated at adults who aren't moving fast enough to stop it.

ADAM NEVILLE: I wanted to have children, and now I don't know if that's ethical or not - to bring them into a world that is literally being destroyed.

HOGAN: That's 17-year-old Adam Neville (ph). And here's 17-year-old Karma Seltse (ph).

KARMA SELTSE: Though I have some slightly different demands - like, for me, the main thing is that we really involve low-income communities and communities of color in this movement because they are the most affected by climate change.


HOGAN: Students wrap up their meeting standing in a circle, singing a song they'll use at Friday's march, written by a group called The Peace Poets.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTEST ORGANIZERS: (Singing) We're gonna strike 'cause our waters are rising. We're gonna strike 'cause our people are dying. We're gonna strike for life and everything we love. We're gonna strike for you. Will you strike for us? We're gonna...

HOGAN: But Friday's march is not the end. The students got the city's education department to allow kids to skip school with parental permission this time. But some of these students will strike next Friday - and the Friday after that - and the one after that - until they can convince adults to take action.

For NPR News, I'm Gwynne Hogan in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.