NYC Climate Strike Draws 300,000 to Battery Park

Darya Foroohar, ‘20

September 2019

On Friday, September 20th, at 11:30 a.m., BHSEC’s halls were much more empty than they had been a mere ten minutes before. Outside the school, however, 350 students began their march down Houston Street, where they would travel to Foley Square to join tens of thousands of other students who had walked out of school to protest climate change– and the lack of any effective policy change being implemented to combat it. This global climate strike was the brainchild of 16 year-old activist Greta Thunberg, who traveled by boat from Sweden to participate in the NYC rally and give a speech to the 300,000 people who marched from Foley Square to Battery Park.

After  ascending the steps of the J train station, which emerged onto Foley Square, BHSEC protesters were surrounded by over 60,000 others who had also walked out of school (and those numbers grew by the minute). As they joined the crowd, they were enveloped by the roar of cheers following speeches by climate activists on a stage many were unable to see due to the sheer number of people present. Cameras and microphones were abundant, as were the handmade protest signs that lifted up a little higher every time a new chant began. 

After the initial speeches, protesters made their way to Battery Park, chanting, singing, and taking pictures of the historic event they were a part of. People in buildings crowded the windows to get a glimpse of the parade of people– mostly teenagers– advocating for climate justice. Students climbed on cars, lampposts, and steps to lead chants with bullhorns and cupped hands alike. Students from schools all over the city marched side by side, united in the moment by their universal goal of combating global warming.

Battery Park was packed by the time the rally started, and continued to fill as each speaker was introduced. From the back of the crowd, the stage itself was almost impossible to see, but the enormous speakers positioned around the outskirts of the park amplified the speakers’ voices, so that everyone could hear. While waiting for Thunberg to speak, protesters rested on the grass, climbed trees to get a better view of the stage, and complemented each other’s signs. The protest morphed into a socially aware concert as musicians Jaden and Willow Smith emphasized the need for immediate policy change regarding climate action in between songs.The music drew more people into the Park, but the message advocated by the performers reminded everyone why they were really there.

Greta Thunberg spoke at 4:30 p.m. to a sea of people, thanking them for being there and helping the Fridays for Future movement, but telling them that the fight would not be over after the rally ended. While her star power increased the rally’s attendance, important messages were shared by local activists such as Xiye Bastida and Alexandria Villaseñor, who have been leading forces in the climate movement in NYC. Additionally, the crowd was reminded to stand in solidarity with indigenous, Black, and brown activists, especially as they were standing on stolen land. his message is extremely important for the movement going forward,as many activists of color face the most risk and receive the least amount of recognition, 

The global climate strike was a success in terms of numbers and energy, but there is still much that needs to be done regarding climate change. Raising awareness in strikes such as this one is supremely important. However, unless the strike is followed up by direct policy change and action, such as lobbying to pass climate legislation, joining organizations that combat climate change, or voting for politicians who will not compromise with big business, it will have been for nothing more than a cool photo-op.