Youth-led strike pressures Mass. legislature to act on climate change


Boston Climate Strike attendees march down Tremont Street towards the State House on Friday. Sam Hwang / Beacon Correspondent

By Andrew Brinker, Senior Investigative Reporter

Thousands of demonstrators gathered at City Hall Plaza and marched to the State House Friday to participate in the Boston Climate Strike, part of an international youth-led movement to demand legislative action to reverse the effects of climate change. 

Boston’s demonstration was one of hundreds on Friday, as millions gathered in cities across the world in an attempt to capture lawmakers’ attention. Organizers at the strike outlined demands for the Massachusetts legislature that would help the state meet guidelines set by the UN, including for Gov. Charlie Baker to declare a climate emergency.

Local youth climate activists organized the demonstration through Massachusetts Climate Strike, a group dedicated to putting on climate demonstrations throughout the state.

Several of the organizers are also affiliated with the Sunrise Movement, a nationwide youth organization dedicated to stopping climate change.

Seventeen-year-old Brookline resident Saya Ameli Hajebi, who is a member of the Sunrise Movement, emphasized the importance of swift action on climate change from the stage assembled in City Hall Plaza, telling young people that their futures are on the line.

“We are fighting for our most fundamental rights,” the Iran-native said. “Our right to clean air, our right to clean water—our right to a livable future.”

Former head of the Environmental Protection Agency Gina McCarthy spoke on stage about her experience serving under President Barack Obama.

As head of the EPA from 2013 to 2017, McCarthy led the Obama Administration’s efforts to combat climate change by strengthening regulations on the release of greenhouse gases. President Donald Trump rolled back many of the policies since taking office in 2017. 

McCarthy spoke about how climate change would first affect lower socioeconomic classes.

“We are going to fight for the clean energy future that is healthier, that is safer, and yes, more just,” McCarthy said.  “Because climate change, like every other pollution challenge, is not an equal opportunity killer. It attacks the most vulnerable first. It’s time for us to focus on these issues and do what’s right.”

The Emerson Green Collective invited students to the Center for Spiritual Life office to make posters before the rally and held the space open for reflection and discussion afterward. 

“I hope this will be a wake-up call … not just for the U.S. but for Emerson College that the climate crisis isn’t going to fix itself unless we begin to make major changes,” Student Government Association Sustainability Commissioner Gianna Gironda wrote in a statement to The Beacon.

The movement to combat climate change gained traction in 2018 after the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change released a special report that detailed the effects of rising temperatures, citing pollution, the burning of fossil fuels, and other human activities as the main cause.

The report concluded that urgent, extensive societal changes would be necessary to prevent the Earth from being too far gone to save.

Protesters displayed apparel for multiple different Democratic presidential candidates and plans for addressing climate change, including the Green New Deal. The bill, proposed by freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s, has been endorsed by presidential candidates Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Senator Bernie Sanders.

Merchandise for Sanders was on sale at City Hall Plaza in the form of small “Bernie buttons” that display some of the Vermont Senator’s campaign slogans and pictures.

John Penaloza, who sold the buttons for two dollars each, co-founded Cape Ann for Bernie in 2016. Penaloza said his focus for the strike was to engage with as many young people as possible, touting Sanders’ popularity among youth voters.

“The demographics of this upcoming election show the biggest bump in years in youth voting,” he said. “It’s just so exciting to see all of these young people here organizing and caring about the important issues.”