Striking with Greta Thunberg, the Global Climate Strike, and Beyond

-Written by Helena Schmitt

During my freshman year writing class at the George Washington University this past spring, I wrote a research paper about the “Fridays for Future” climate change movement led by teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. 

This week, I met Greta face to face. 

This month was historic for climate activism. Greta has inspired millions of people around the world since she started skipping school to go on a “climate strike” every Friday for over a year.  As her movement gained traction, she became the central image for the climate change movement and gave speeches to government officials more than twice her age at events such as the COP 24, World Economic Forum, and the EU Parliament.  Then she finally crossed the Atlantic towards New York City on a sailboat, the only carbon-free solution she could find. Her first arrival in North America since beginning the movement has led to a crazy few weeks for climate activists —  not only in DC, but also in America and the world as a whole. I was fortunate enough to see her twice. 

Striking in Front of the White House with Greta Thunberg

It was announced on Wednesday, September 11, that Greta would carry out her 56th strike on September 13 in outside of the White House — only two days later.  I arrived very early; I was excited to interact and strike with a woman I had been admiring for a long time. At first, it was just myself and the organizers in attendance, and I watched the crowd surge in size and anticipation while waiting for Greta to arrive.  The crowd at this strike was young — it looked like a lot of kids actually skipped school to come. A few hundred people ended up striking with merely two days notice, and lead strikers noted that they were used to only having around 20 people join them in the typical Friday strike.  

Besides the over-eager press corps looking to catch a glimpse of Greta in action, this strike felt authentic, like it accurately reflected the Fridays for Future movement as a whole.  The speeches took place on the south side of the White House. The crowd squeezed into the narrow sidewalk, and the lead strikers only used megaphones and their own voices to convey their anger with American lawmakers but hopefulness for the movement as a whole.  When it was finally Greta’s turn to speak, it was brief, only for about a minute. She echoed the messages of the speakers prior, and said “see you next week on September 20th” for the global climate strike. And then it was over.  

Greta Thunberg marching with Friday for Future strikers on the National Mall.

Amnesty International Honors Greta and Other Youth Activists with Top Award

My excitement grew over the next few days as I anticipated watching her accept Amnesty International’s “Ambassador of Conscience” award a few days later on my campus, the George Washington University. The Ambassador of Conscience Award is Amnesty’s highest honor to profound individuals and social groups working to protect human rights. As a current GWU student, I was lucky to obtain a free ticket to the event. The award ceremony was much more formal than the White House “strike.”  Greta, along with a few other notable youth environmental activists, were being honored for their work in the movement. One of the recipients was Tokata Iron Eyes of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. Her speech was actually my favorite of the night as she spoke about her commitment to environmental justice and indigenous rights since she protested the Keystone Pipeline when she was only 12 years old. I had goosebumps when she spoke. 

Greta spoke towards the end, again keeping her remarks short. Following her acceptance of the award, she engaged in a panel discussion with other leaders of Fridays for Future in North America. I got the impression that while Greta recognizes her significance in the movement, she didn’t want to dominate the spotlight. Instead she wanted to recognize other important youth activists she works with. On the panel, she only answered one question that was directly asked of her. Most of the time, she would pass the questions on to her colleagues to allow them to publicly reflect on their time in the movement instead.  

Greta Thunberg accepting Amnesty International’s 2019 Ambassador of Conscience Award for the Fridays for Future Movement.

DC Climate Activists Take Over Capitol Hill

After these two events, of course, came the massive “Global Climate Strike” on September 20.  This strike was to be much bigger than the White House strike with Greta, with people of all ages in attendance. Overall, the event seemed like a success for the lead strikers who watched their Fridays for Future branch grow from a usual crowd of 20 students to a mass of over seven thousand participants.     

It wasn’t as big as some other strikes that took place around the world that day, like the 300,000 that turned out in New York City, but the creative homemade signs and high-energy atmosphere reminded me of the Women’s March and the March For Our Lives. And it is worth considering the cumulative numbers: that same day, strikes took place in more than 1000 cities around the world, including locally in Baltimore, Newport News, Richmond, and Virginia Beach (all places where CCAN had a presence). Overall, more than 4 million people across the world took part in a climate strike. This number is historic

Strikers at the DC Global Climate Strike on September 20, 2019.

Unpacking my Wild Week of Climate Activism

 We all knew Greta Thunberg’s arrival in America was a huge deal for the international climate movement. But after having the opportunity to witness first-hand the movement she created, I compiled two major takeaways.  

First, the Fridays for Future movement makes me feel old!  I’ve spent the past week listening to brilliant and compelling speeches detailing the severity of climate change and the failure of older generations to act on it.  I’m only 19 years old and I was still older than nearly every speaker. When a 12-year-old has the courage to speak out in front of hundreds of strikers, onlookers, and possibly even climate change deniers about society’s ignorant inaction on climate change, it becomes too difficult not to feel complicit and part of the problem.  When I was 12, I was afraid to give an oral presentation to my 6th-grade class — let alone a massive crowd of climate activists. I feel old, but I know that I am still young enough to have a future I want to protect. 

Second: this movement is so much larger than just Greta Thunberg or any one individual skipping school. During the first strike I attended, Greta tried her best to blend into the crowd and become a normal student striker.  She made the same effort during the Amnesty International ceremony, which could have easily turned into a night to honor solely Greta. Instead, she brought her top American and Canadian strikers on the stage to accept the award with her and reflect on the inner workings of the movement as a whole.

Greta Thunberg, Jerome Foster III, and more North American Fridays for Future activists participating in a panel for Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience 2019 Award ceremony.

These events have strengthened my belief in just how important it is to be involved in the climate movement right now.  As a student in DC, it amazes me to witness any social movement come to life on the national scale first hand. But having the opportunity to witness a movement so personally relevant and important to me is something that I will never forget.  As the UN Climate Summit takes place during this week and more Friday climate strikes in the future, I remain optimistic that eventually our world leadership will shift its course on climate action. It is times like these that remind me why I chose to pursue my higher education in our nation’s capital.   

Action in Trump's America: Why I March

The following is a guest post from Elisabeth Hoffman of Howard County Climate Action.
Turns out the chief benefit from Donald Trump’s election lies in the backlash.  
Progress on immigration, environmental justice, women’s rights, #BlackLivesMatter, and health care are at risk. On climate change, in particular, we have shifted from barely addressing the unfolding catastrophe to baldly denying it even exists.  
Yet Marylanders, after six years of trying and against all odds, just passed a ban on fracking. It passed with bipartisan support, along with the Republican governor’s backing, after a massive showing of grassroots resistance to this destructive drilling process. 
In Trump’s America, more long-shot victories like Maryland’s fracking ban are sure to come. Why? Because around the country, mass protests and local actions have become the norm. State attorneys general are challenging the Trump administration, and state lawmakers are passing local protections – such as funding for Planned Parenthood. Communities are not watching idly as hopes for a better future are threatened with every executive order, regressive piece of legislation, and crack-of-dawn tweet.
This resistance began in the disoriented days after No. 45 was elected. Then, the day after Trump took the oath, millions protested around the world in the Women’s March. In D.C. alone, the crowd was three times the size of that on Inauguration Day. After Trump issued his first immigration ban, thousands showed up at airports, cities and towns in protest. Voters are confronting lawmakers at town halls. So deluded and unhinged is this administration, even scientists have had to leave the lab and take to the streets to call for facts instead of alt-facts.  
The push for Maryland’s fracking ban coincided with Trump’s first flailing missteps. Stunned yet determined, a broad coalition of Maryland homeowners, tourism businesses, students, faith leaders, farmers and civic-minded residents demanded protection from an industry that violates regulations, preys on low-income communities, and buys its way out of every lawsuit. This grassroots movement of residents – from Friendsville to Lusby, Bel Air to Frederick, Baltimore to Columbia – signed petitions, mailed postcards, made calls and paid visits to state legislators. They implored town, city and county councils to endorse a ban. They spoke out in congregations and at public hearings. They marched through the streets of small towns and in Annapolis. 
I was among 13 people, mostly faith leaders and Western Marylanders, arrested on March 16 at the State House in Annapolis to proclaim that our movement would not compromise the safety of our homes, our water and our climate. We would settle for nothing less than a ban. The day after our arrests, the tide shifted: Gov. Larry Hogan threw his support to the fracking ban, and in a matter of weeks the ban was in place.
With that same moral outrage, we head for the People’s Climate March on Saturday, April 29.
People are rising up against a president who has delivered the Environmental Protection Agency to a climate-denier known mostly as a serial plaintiff against the agency. They are standing firm against a president who has handed over foreign policy to the former head of Exxon Mobil, a company being sued for misleading the public and lawmakers for decades about climate change. Virginians will attest to coastal flooding. Baltimore residents will say no to their children’s asthma and choking pollution. From Standing Rock to Lancaster, Pa., from the Gulf Coast to the Potomac, communities will rise to protect their water and land and themselves from oil and gas pipelines, from fracked-gas power plants, from fracked-gas export factories.  
We are in a race against rising seas, soaring temperatures, deadly droughts, fiercer storms, spreading diseases, forced migrations, dying oceans, and widening wealth gaps. Last week, levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere topped 410 parts per million, way beyond the levels that allowed human civilizations to take hold. In 1958, when record-keeping started at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, the level was 280 ppm.  
The hours that I spent in an Anne Arundel County jail cell, with its peeling paint and one small window in the heavy door, seem an apt metaphor for our nation’s limited and tired vision in the face of humanity’s greatest challenge. We must rush toward the world outside the cramped cell of our fossil-fueled world. That the current administration is running equally fast to slam the door spurs us to fight even harder. 
Our uprising must and will be loud and persistent. In Trump’s version of America, the measure of our relief will be the extent of our enduring resistance.  

The Peoples Climate March is Red, White, and Blue

Guest post by Rick Shingles, member of Preserve Giles County

On April 29, I plan to travel more than 500 miles to Washington D.C. for the Peoples’ Climate Mobilization. For me, marching is about more than politics, more than ideology.
For me, the issue is deeply personal.
The fossil fuel industry threatens my community in southwest Virginia. The proposed fracked-gas Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) is routed to bisect Newport which sits in the middle of the active Giles County seismic zone in the midst of the Appalachian fold belt. This 42-inch diameter pipeline would carve through steep ridges and karst valleys in some of the most pristine natural habitat and biodiversity in the world.
Our natural heritage, endangered species, aquifers (the primary source of our farm and residential water), safety from catastrophe like the 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion, peace of mind, property values and property rights are all at risk.
Our town is just one casualty of a vast fracked-gas pipelines infrastructure either built or planned. There are 9,000 miles of new oil and gas pipelines proposed in the U.S. with 19 (including the MVP and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline) in Appalachia alone. And tens of thousands of homes and businesses are being sacrificed to supply the product these pipelines transport: fracked methane, an even more lethal greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Multiple perils accompany every stage of hydraulic fracturing: the toxic mix of chemicals used to induce it, the dispersal and storage of waste water which can poison drinkable water and soils, seismic activity, methane leaks at every stage of production and distribution, and the destruction of green economies.
A Roanoke Times editorial presents my county as a model for developing outdoor recreational economies. Yet our economy is imperiled by the MVP. The pipeline would cross tributaries of the New River (some multiple times). It would block access to Mountain Lake and the Cascades during the construction. And the Jefferson National Forest could become split by a 500-foot wide utility corridor.
All of this could upend fifteen years of collaboration by local businesses and county government to build a tourism economy that currently provides $26 million in annual business revenue, 16% of our sales tax, $90,000 in transient occupancy taxes and two percent of total tax revenue. That is a lot for a sparsely settled, rural county. We don’t want it trashed by an interstate pipeline ally.
Why should so many American communities be sacrifice zones to supply this fuel to other nations, a good number of which ban fracking?
That’s why I’m going to march in Washington.
I will support Americans in all communities that are being sacrificed to supply fracked gas.
And for what? For continued reliance on antiquated twentieth century energy sources that are increasingly unnecessary, less plentiful and more expensive than wind, solar, hydraulic, and tidal power?
I am going to fight for greater regulation of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that appears controlled by the very gas and oil industry it is supposed to regulate, approves any and all interstate pipeline applications, grants private companies eminent domain to take our land, and runs roughshod over state and local governments.
I am going for my children and grandchildren – to preserve a natural heritage threatened by our addiction to fossil fuels, to help stave off rising seas and coastal flooding and the fundamental alteration of inland climates that underlie many traditional industries (See Stephen Nash’s Virginia Climate Fever: How Global Warming will Transform Out Cities, Shorelines, and Forests). Climate disruption could well lead to unprecedented mass migrations and economic, social and political instability that could destabilize governments and exacerbate international conflicts.
The dire threats posed by climate disruption should not be partisan issues, red-states versus blue-states, or framed by ideologues of the left or the right.
I will journey to Washington understanding that each of us must look to ourselves first to protect our communities, preserve our natural heritage and safeguard our progeny. If we fail, I will not solely blame any particular individual or political party or politicians in general. Each citizen has the responsibility to reduce his or her own environmental footprint and to fulfill the obligation of democratic citizenship. We must act to hold our leaders accountable. We must take direct action.
I accept this responsibility.
One day, I hope to tell my grandchildren that I – with millions of others – met this singular challenge and became this nation’s greatest generation.

Rick Shingles is associate professor emeritus at Virginia Tech and coordinator of Preserve Giles County.

Climate Documentary Inspires Local Activists

When it comes to fighting climate change, people power is our greatest weapon. This is the message I took with me from CCAN’s screening of the documentary Chasing Ice in Richmond. Last Thursday night at the Camel, I was able to see what comes of weeks of planning, stress, and seemingly endless phone calls and emails. The result was a room full of people who were motivated and ready to take action against climate change.
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VP Biden: Virginians say no KXL

How do you get the attention of one of the most powerful decision makers in the world?

Many would say there is only one route: through his wallet. Though this past Saturday, I saw another way: through the people. After countless hours petitioning and phonebanking, the big day had finally come. We set up in front of the coliseum and waited for our activists to arrive. Over the course of fifteen minutes around seventy people showed up. We outfitted them with magic marker signs and homemade miniature wind turbines and began the slow march around the convention center.

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Fighting Water Pollution in Curtis Bay

On Wednesday we were out in Curtis Bay, Maryland, home to the CSX Coal Facility. CSX is a coal export facility whose huge coal piles are visible when you’re standing on a hill in the neighborhood.
This isn’t the first time we’ve been out there. Four other CCAN fellows and I have been out in Curtis Bay multiple times the past few weeks: knocking on doors and talking to local residents about the effects coal pollution has on their day-to-day lives. We’ve heard stories from coal dust coating peoples’ homes and pools, to worries about fishing in local waters, to concerns about kids playing outside.
These issues became critically important leading up to today, because CSX is up for a new water pollution permit – one that needs to be a lot stronger. For example, the current permit doesn’t limit levels of heavy metals that can be dumped right into the harbor.
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Reactions to the 10th Vegetarian Festival by a CCAN Fellow

Last Saturday at the 10th Annual Vegetarian Festival in Bryan Park, Richmond, Virginia I experienced my first day petitioning with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network as we began our new campaign – Safe Coastlines. Throughout this campaign we will be collecting thousands of petitions and calling on Virginia policymakers and Dominion power to develop energy efficiency and clean energy, as well reducing the current climate impacts that were already noticing. I was excited to see that virtually everybody was as passionate about protecting Virginia’s coastline from climate change devastation as I am.  

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Tell the City Council: Close the black liquor loophole

D.C.’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) law was intended to spur new clean energy development and help city residents reap the environmental and economic benefits that come with it. In reality, ratepayer dollars are largely being used to purchase energy from decades-old facilities that burn dirty black liquor, a paper industry byproduct, and wood waste. This must change.

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Hundreds of activists go for a cold Potomac swim to fight climate change

For Immediate Release
January 26, 2013

Kelly Trout, 717-439-0346 (c), 240-396-2022,
Mike Tidwell, 240-460-5838,

Hundreds of activists go for a cold Potomac swim to fight climate change

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD—In the wake of the hottest year in U.S. history, marked by Hurricane Sandy and other devastating weather extremes, more than 150 people jumped into the Potomac River on Saturday morning to deliver an urgent call for stronger climate action. Activists joined in the “Keep Winter Cold” Polar Bear Plunge, now in its eighth year, to raise awareness and funds for local, state and federal solutions to global warming.

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Groups support MDE settlement to clean up Genon's toxic coal ash pollution in Charles, Montgomery and PG Counties

For Immediate Release
January 14, 2013

Diana Dascalu-Joffe, (240) 396-1984,

MDE Lauded for Legal Action to Stop Ground and Surface Water Contamination and Prevent Additional Pollution at Coal Ash Sites; GenOn to pay a civil penalty of $1.9 million

BALTIMORE—In a victory for Maryland communities and waterways, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) filed a consent decree in federal court requiring utility company GenOn to clean up widespread ground and surface water pollution at three of its coal ash disposal sites. MDE and environmental groups have accused GenOn of illegally discharging toxic pollution into groundwater and local waterways at the Faulkner Landfill in Charles County, Brandywine Landfill in Prince Georges County, and the Westland Landfill in Montgomery County.

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