‘We can’t be ignored’: Youth Climate Strike in Morristown presses pols to confront climate change

Young activist at Youth Climate Strike in Morristown, March 15, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Young activist at Youth Climate Strike in Morristown, March 15, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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By Louise Witt

They came by bus. They came by car. Some walked from Morris Township. Others traveled from Bergen and Warren and Middlesex counties. A few risked the wrath of school principals; others had notes from their parents. At least one teacher played hooky to attend.

The Youth Climate Strike drew dozens of kids to the steps of Morristown town hall on Friday to demand that adults take immediate and radical action to combat global warming.

“If the priorities of political leaders are incompatible with the fight to save planet Earth, then those priorities – and those politicians – will have to change,” declared Eden Summerlin, 16, of the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship Youth Group, to cheers from about 125 people who gathered at lunchtime on an unseasonably warm March day.

This was one of more than 2,000 “climate strikes” in 123 countries. In New Jersey, Montclair High School students walked out of classrooms, while students in Princeton and Mahwah also staged strikes.

Brandishing signs proclaiming “There is no Planet B” and “Denial is Not a Policy,” a procession of teens in Morristown called for politicians to take steps to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin. Click / hover on image for captions:

Young activist at Youth Climate Strike in Morristown, March 15, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Students at Youth Climate Strike in Morristown, March 15, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Students from the Unity Charter School in Morris Township at Youth Climate Strike in Morristown, March 15, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Young activist at Youth Climate Strike in Morristown, March 15, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Rally organizer at Youth Climate Strike in Morristown, March 15, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
FOSSIL FUEL? Dinosaur listens at Youth Climate Strike in Morristown, March 15, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Organizers at Youth Climate Strike in Morristown, March 15, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
STARING DOWN A DINOSAUR at Youth Climate Strike in Morristown, March 15, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Melanie Marcus, left, and Sarah Miller traveled from Ramapo H.S. in Franklin Lakes to the Youth Climate Strike in Morristown, March 15, 2019. Marcus said a friend stayed home, fearing school sanctions would harm her Ivy League college acceptance. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Matt Smith of Food and Water Watch addresses Youth Climate Strike in Morristown, March 15, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
'My generation isn't going to stay silent about things that are going to affect our future,' said Eden Summerlin, a Madison H.S. junior and member of the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship Youth Group, at Youth Climate Strike in Morristown, March 15, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Student endorses Green Action Plan at Youth Climate Strike in Morristown, March 15, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
'There is no way we can be ignored,' said Muriel Baki, a senior from North Warren Regional H.S., at Youth Climate Strike in Morristown, March 15, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Teacher Jennifer Krause brought 30 students from the Ridge and Valley Charter School in Blairstown to the Youth Climate Strike in Morristown, March 15, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
A lot of young people definitely care' about climate change, said 9th grader Rachel Gurevich of East Brunswick, at the Youth Climate Strike in Morristown, March 15, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Ribbons denote things students want to save from climate change, at Youth Climate Strike in Morristown, March 15, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Matt Smith of Food and Water Watch and the Rev. Alison Miller of the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship, at Youth Climate Strike in Morristown, March 15, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Students at Youth Climate Strike in Morristown, March 15, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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If it takes a child to lead them, that child is Greta Thunberg. Many kids at the Morristown rally said they were inspired by the Swedish 8th grader, who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for skipping school every Friday for months to protest outside Sweden’s parliament.

“She spoke up and made a change,” said Sarah Mufson, a 14-year-old student from Boonton. “Look at what she’s done. Look at how many strikes we’ve had. We’ve had over 2,000 strikes around the world. I saw other teens like myself and realized I could be one of those.”

Young activist at Youth Climate Strike in Morristown, March 15, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Young activist at Youth Climate Strike in Morristown, March 15, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“My generation isn’t going to stay silent about things that are going to affect us in the future,” said Summerlin, a Madison High School junior eager to reach voting age.

Muriel Baki, a senior from North Warren Regional High School, echoed the sentiment. “There’s no way we can be ignored,” she said.

Channeling the ghost of folksinger Woody Guthrie, whose guitar once proclaimed, “This machine kills fascists,” Morris County School of Technology senior Nussy Andrews strummed a ukulele and sang a satirical original song, Let’s Trash the Earth!

Video: Let’s Trash the Earth!

THE HOME TEAM SITS THIS ONE OUT

The event was organized via social media.

Teacher Jennifer Krause brought a busload of middle-schoolers from the Ridge and Valley Charter School in Blairstown. Several Jefferson Township High School students skipped school to show their support. One 17-year-old from St. Vincent Academy in Newark drove 40 minutes to join the strike.

“My friends’ parents wouldn’t let them come,” said Joscelyne Quiridumbay. “They wanted to walk out, but the school said it wasn’t the time or the place. My parents said it was okay, so that’s why I’m here.”

Melanie Marcus and Sarah Miller ventured from Ramapo High School in Franklin Lakes. Marcus said a friend stayed behind, fearful that blowback from school officials could harm her Ivy League admission prospects.

Although Morristown High School students helped organize last year’s March for Our Lives for gun law reforms after the Parkland massacre, no students from MHS, or from other Morris School District schools, were seen at Friday’s Climate Strike.

“Nobody asked to leave” classes, said District Superintendent Mackie Pendergrast.

A Morristown High senior involved in last year’s March said via text that many students there were unaware of the Climate Strike, and a test prevented her from skipping classes for the hour-long demonstration.

But students from the Unity Charter School, which stresses sustainability in its curriculum, hoofed all the way from Ridgedale Avenue in Morris Township with their teacher.

Click icon at top left to toggle through playlist. Videos by Louise Witt for MorristownGreen.com:

Ananya Singh, 16, a co-host of the event who attends the Morris County School of Technology, pledged to participate in a Friday climate strike every month until officials do the right thing.

“I will strike as long as it takes until we see real climate action that meets what science demands,” she said. “Sure, school is a lot, but if we don’t have a safe future that is livable and habitable for us, what’s the point of an education?”

STUDENT ACTIVISM COMES FULL CIRCLE

Sweden’s Thunberg was inspired by U.S. students’ activism in response to mass shootings.

Now, following Thunberg’s lead, the U.S. Youth Climate Strike organization has prepared political demands including implementing the Green New Deal and other legislation, to avert what many scientists warn is an irreversible climate crisis.

The Green New Deal calls for policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, so temperatures don’t increase by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial temperatures.

Last year, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report warning the earth will reach a point of no return by 2030 if that rise is not stemmed.

If emissions aren’t throttled, the report’s authors predict a world of refugees from heat waves, violent storms, rising sea levels, droughts, wildfires and infrastructure damage.

Kevin Coughlin contributed to this report.

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