‘If you don’t act like adults, we will’: Hundreds of youth climate strikers surround City Hall

Masterman High School seniors Iman Acharya and Alina Kilcullen cheer for speakers at the climate strike. (Jonathan Wilson for WHYY)

Masterman High School seniors Iman Acharya and Alina Kilcullen cheer for speakers at the climate strike. (Jonathan Wilson for WHYY)

More than 2,500 young people gathered outside of City Hall today to demand their adult counterparts take action on what scientists call a “climate crisis.”

They carried signs declaring, “If you don’t act like adults, we will!” and “It’s getting hot in here!”

Children and teens chanted and marched accompanied by their parents, grandparents and teachers. They skipped class, disregarding the School District of Philadelphia’s announcement that they would be marked as an unexcused absence, to join a global climate strike happening all over the world.

The Global Climate Strike was inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who started missing classes last year to bring attention to environmental issues in her home country. Thunberg has become the face of an increasingly visible youth movement calling on adults to “do their jobs” so they can have a future.

Renee Caporellie, a high school student at Academy at Polumbo, said it’s unfair that people in her generation will have to think twice before having children because they won’t have a safe place to live. Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that global leaders have 11 years to reduce catastrophic climate change effects.

“And it shouldn’t be our responsibility to fix it, but we’re out here today so that we can have a future and there could be future generations that have a future and can prosper,” she said.

(Catalina Jaramillo/WHYY)

Celene Hernandez, a 17-year-old student from North Philadelphia, said two years ago climate change didn’t mean much to her. But then Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017, destroying her mother’s hometown.

“So many Americans across the country are turning their heads, turning a blind eye, because it doesn’t directly affect them,” Hernandez said. “It affected 3,057 people who died from Hurricane Maria. I’m tired of having to wait for people to die to get politicians and the government to do something about it.”

The Philadelphia rally started at 11 a.m. and continued as a march around City Hall.

“There’s so much power in this space,” said Sabirah Mahmud, one of the lead organizers of the rally with US Youth Climate Strike.

Mahmud said organizers expected fewer people than actually turned out. The message to politicians, she said, is that future voters care.

“Climate crisis is real (….) If you don’t take action we will vote you out,” says 16-year-old Sabirah Mahmud, lead Philly organizer for #ClimateStrike (Catalina Jaramillo/WHYY)

“I’m a future voter and I live here. This is my city. I need it to be safe,” Mahmud said. “I’m only 16. By 2030, I[‘m] only going to be 28. And I want a future —  I want to go get a job, I want to go start a family, I want to be able to have grandchildren. I want that for myself.”

Tara Cosden came from Riverside Township in New Jersey with her four kids and her mother in law.

“Because their future is in jeopardy, and they’re my babies,” said Cosden about why she came to Friday’s protest. “It’s been at least 25 years that we’ve known about the problem, pretty seriously and still nobody has done anything. It’s more about money than it is about life.”

Eight-year-old Jordan, the oldest of the four Cosden kids, has their own agenda.

“Because we don’t like climate change and we want to save the planet,” Jordan said.

Cosden is not completely sure what climate change means, but they’ve got the essentials.

“It’s changing the world. It’s not good,” Jordan said.

“What is it doing to the animals?” asked mom Tara Cosden.

“It’s killing them.”

“And the oceans?” asked the mom again.

“Too.”

The rally, named “Philadelphia Strikes Back” was organized by several environmental organizations including Youth Climate Lobby PA, 350 Philly and the Sunrise Movement.

Philadelphia activists are demanding elected officials to implement a municipal Green New Deal, transition to 100% renewable energy by 2030, stop any new fossil fuel projects from opening in the city, and a “just transition to a renewable economy.”

Climate rally at City Hall (Nylah Mosley-Heller for WHYY)

Philadelphia City Councilmember Helen Gym was the only elected official who spoke at the rally.

“The whole world is watching. The whole world has its eyes all over the cities, which young people are overwhelming our public spaces to demand that a new world is absolutely possible,” Gym said.

Gym committed to fight for a local version of the Green New Deal.

“Young people like you … you hold the vision that we so desperately need,” she said. “I need your voices … so keep organizing. Look at all the power around you!”

7-year-old Sarina Mahmud at the ‘Philadelphia Strikes Back’ climate rally (Catalina Jaramillo/WHYY)

A representative of Mayor Jim Kenney said he wasn’t able to attend because of scheduling conflicts. The mayor supported the strike with a tweet, but Gym criticized the city’s lack of boldness for not granting students an excuse to miss class. She brought her own permission slips for students.

“We agree that ambitious action is needed on climate which is why the City is committed to upholding the commitments of the Paris Climate Agreement and is working diligently as part of the Bloomberg American Cities Challenge to scale up our climate efforts,” said Kelly Cofrancisco, a spokesperson for the city.

The international protest is meant to put pressure on global leaders attending the United Nations Climate Action Summit that starts on Monday in New York City. UN Secretary General António Guterres welcomed the public pressure and called climate change an “emergency.”

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