Two boys walked on the other side of Seneca Street. We were leaving the Climate Strike gathering on the Ithaca Commons. I watched these teenagers, one dark skinned with a snug T shirt showing his taut belly with loose pants riding low. The other kid was pale with red and white baggy workout clothes. He hugged a skateboard close to his chest.
One boy’s arms carved the air with enthusiasm and energy. He laughed and nudged the other kid who gave a gentle shoulder nudge back. Were they talking about climate change or the skate park? Were they talking about their favorite DJ or how cool it was that the strike let them leave school on this beautiful day? What do guys that age say with no adults around?
On the Commons, I’d photographed teens, babies, elders in wheelchairs, and signs. I spotted three laughing girls behind the speaker’s stage. Their smiles and the familiar way they reached out to touch each other made me feel comfortable approaching them.
“May I take a photo of you with your sign?” I asked.
Their broad smiles and the way they lined up with the sign made it clear the answer was, “Sure.” I couldn’t hear their words, but I could read their bodies. The PA system and crowd noise had blown out my hearing capacity by then, but I walked away feeling lifted and hopeful. I walked away thinking of these high school kids of many races, hanging out together to protect the wounded planet they’ll inherit.
“I’m so angry, I made a sign,” one kid’s sign said. His message was I’m normally too cool to make a stupid sign, but I’m scared and mad about climate change, so I’m here. He was glad to pose for a photo.
It’s amazing these students don’t hate everyone my age, but most don’t seem to blame us for the mess we’ve left on this earth. I’m not sure I’d be so generous. I relate to Greta Thunberg’s UN talk. “How dare we?”
The rally had a good vibe, reminding me of the Women’s March in Washington DC after the last presidential election, another moment when national grief surfaced and created action. I couldn’t understand much over the PA system and people with perfect hearing said the same. I didn’t get close to the podium because the crowd was packed. I’d have to shove and then be trapped if the noise was too much.
I grieve about politics and climate chaos and want to do something. Noise fatigue is the price I pay for showing up at a rally where people yell and chant and the PA system blares, but others are here in wheelchairs and strollers. We come because we long for hope and change.
I saw a few close friends, including my writing teacher Ellen and her husband. I asked Ellen to pose with my sign. She wanted me in the photo, but I insisted. So there she is, one of the grey heads like me, grinning over my sign of the Creator’s hands cupping the Earth.
The most loving and essential thing we can do for these kids is save the Earth and do all we can as individuals and governments to step back from fossil fuels and plastics and all the rest. We know the story and the heroic effort needed. Will we wake up or is it too late?
I walked away with the inspiration I needed to sign one more petition, go to one more protest, and take one more step away from fossil fuels. Thank you, Greta Thunberg, for your first solitary protest and the persistence that led to this day and your powerful talk at the UN.
When I got home, I released a Monarch butterfly I’d protected. Just another way to keep hope alive.
How are you handling climate change? I often feel helpless as I wait for voters to wake up to the threat for coming generations. We are not political radicals or off the deep edge if we’re concerned about this. We’re realistic about the science that’s been clear for 30 years. What can we do?
For a post about climate protest in Washington, DC in 2013, see Standing Up for Mother Earth. For a post about one sacred day of a successful extended local action to prevent polluting Seneca Lake with underground gas storage, see Blessing the Water, Blessing Our Life.