Under pressure from kids determined to picket for the planet, New York City buckled and announced last week it will excuse students who skip class Friday to attend a youth climate strike.
New York’s decision freed up 1.1 million kids to demonstrate in the country’s most famous city, giving a massive boost to the strikes planned around the world. The decision lends institutional support to the movement spearheaded by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who’ll be in New York on Friday to help lead the strike.
It’s also perfectly timed to send a message to world leaders who are scheduled to appear at the United Nations for the Climate Action Summit the Monday after the climate strikes.
“Holy smokes, this thing could get HUGE,” Jamie Henn, co-founder of the climate action group 350.org, said on Twitter upon the news that NYC would excuse absences.
“Climate change is real and I’m glad that our young people feel passionately about saving our planet,” tweeted NYC Council Speak Corey Johnson. “And I’m also glad the city is making it easier for them to express themselves by attending the climate change rally. I couldn’t be more proud!”
Kids will need approval from their parents to skip for the demonstrations on Friday. But the school district was under pressure to come up with a solution for the rally on Friday after Thunberg inspired large numbers of students to join her in protests at the U.N in August.
“This completely changes things, and it’s our doing,” Xiye Bastida, a 17-year-old senior at Beacon High School in Manhattan, told the New York Times. Teachers and students from her school were planning to strike, regardless of whether the city gave approval.
Thunberg is set to lead a demonstration at Foley Square in New York on Friday, followed by a rally and march at Battery Park. She told NPR in an interview last week that the U.S. has a special responsibility — and obligation — to lead the climate fight.
"You are such a big country," she said. "In Sweden, when we demand politicians to do something, they say, 'It doesn't matter what we do — because just look at the U.S.'”
Thunberg responded to the news of New York City’s decision to allow students to skip by asking: “How will local governments and schools in the rest of the world respond?”
The Times reported Cambridge was set to consider a motion on Tuesday to excuse kids for the strike, while L.A. was still finalizing plans for the protest.
Of course, not everyone was thrilled with the idea of letting kids demonstrate against climate change. The New York Post’s right-wing editorial board called it “out-and-out government sponsorship of a particular point of view.”
Still, activists in cities across the country — L.A., Miami, Minneapolis, Seattle, Boston, D.C.— and globe are planning parallel strikes. With strikes planned in Sydney, London, Tokyo, Moscow, São Paulo and countless other cities, it might end up being one of the largest demonstrations in recent memory. There are some 2,500 events planned in 150 countries to urge action on climate change.
Cover: Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, 16, speaks on a panel after being awarded Amnesty International's Ambassador of Conscience Award, its highest honor for human rights work, at George Washington University, Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)