Montclair State University student, Michelle Rodriguez, joined an estimated four million people attending the Global Climate Strike. Rodriguez, a senior nutrition major, had not been to any protests before, but felt compelled to attend this one.
“In my circle, I don’t think we’re as involved as we could be,” Rodriguez said. “I’m trying to make that change in my circle. If you’re not going to do it, I want to do it by myself.”
Rodriguez was not by herself. She was joined by her William Paterson University friend, Alba Bidal. Together, they were part of a protest that reportedly took place within 150 countries from all seven continents.
The event Rodriguez and Bidal attended took place in downtown Montclair, New Jersey, at the corner of Bloomfield Avenue and Church Street. The protest, which began at 5:30 p.m., was the second protest in Montclair, New Jersey that day. An earlier protest took place that day at 10 a.m., when students from Montclair High School chose to organize a walkout.
Other young people in attendance were five students from Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey, who had organized their own walkout, also at 10 a.m. that day.
The students are all members of activist organizations at their school. Jordan Muhammad and Sylvie Schutez are members of the Students for Justice Club, while David Harper, Laila Gold and Emmy Cramer are members of the Environmental Club. They all had a lot to say about their concern for climate change.
“The climate crisis is the most important issue facing our generation currently,” Gold said. “As high schoolers, we really can make a difference when it comes to the climate crisis, and we need to continue making that difference until we see change.”
Muhammad spoke on the importance of taking action and on the impact she feels activism has.
“Just how a teacher can change someone’s life. One speech and one fact can also change someone’s life,” Muhammad said. “I just so strongly believe that we can’t give up on people.”
The students said they planned their walkout in less than two weeks, and will continue to spread activism by hosting events such as clothing drives, trash pickups and events that help with voter registration.
The climate strike has been widely coordinated by young people. It began with Swedish student, Greta Thunberg, who skipped school every Friday to protest climate change. This was the second globally coordinated strike. The first took place earlier this year in March.
Despite being a movement generally led by young people, those in attendance at the Montclair, New Jersey protest were mostly middle-aged adults and seniors. One senior, Virginia Scott-Fleming, was at the event with her husband and commented that she felt the turnout was large.
“It’s very popular,” Scott-Fleming said. “Usually there’s about 10 people standing here, marching for peace, but this is for climate.”
Many of those at the protest directly criticized the government for not doing enough to respond to climate change. Some people waved signs calling for Gov. Phil Murphy to divest from fossil fuels. A representative from New Jersey Peace Action gave a speech in which he provided statistics on the U.S. military’s whopping number of carbon dioxide emissions and criticized the media’s lack of coverage on climate change.
“To talk about something, to talk about a cause that you really care about and want to support, it’s all talk,” Rodriguez said. “You have to actually be physically here or do whatever you can.”