Montclair teens strike for climate change
By DAPHNE HANSELL
Special to Montclair Local
Montclair High School students have had enough of inaction.
Students will walk out of the high school Friday, Sept. 20, from 10 to 10:45 a.m., for a "climate strike," calling attention to a lack of progress being made by lawmakers in responding to climate change. The walk-out will include a rally held, with the school's permission, in the high school amphitheater.
Student speakers covering such issues as long term consequences of climate change, the power of organizing, the importance of voting, and climate justice. The organizers, juniors Josh Shapiro and Isaac Barry, expect around 700 students to attend.
In an email sent to parents and students, Montclair High School principal Anthony Grosso said, “We are anticipating a possible student walk out at Montclair High School tomorrow regarding Global Climate Change. Please be aware that MHS supports the students’ right to protest. However, if students participate and skip class, it will be counted as a cut for those period(s).”
The strike is coordinated with #FridaysForFuture, and takes place during the organization’s Countdown to Global #WeekForFuture, Sept. 20-27. #FridaysForFuture was founded in 2018 by then-15-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunburg. She decided to strike every Friday until Swedish policy effected changes to be more in line with the 2016 Paris climate change agreement.
MHS organizers said they were moved to action after reading “The Uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells.
“[The book] sent me into a full on existential crisis for like two weeks,” Shapiro said. Over the summer, he and Barry went to a training session in New York City sponsored by an organization called Extinction Rebellion, where they learned the basics of organizing a non-violent protest.
“[Wallace-Wells] explained just how grave the crisis was, because before reading the book I only had a vague idea of how climate change led to famine and war," Shapiro said. "I really had to consider that this ecological disaster could be the end of life as we know it.”
The organizers of the walkout are sending four demands to state and local officials. First, they ask for Montclair’s two U.S. House representatives, Mikie Sherill (D-11th) and Donald Payne Jr. (D-10th) to sign onto the "No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge." The pledge, started by the activists at the Sunrise Movement, a progressive youth organization fighting for action on climate change, prohibits signatories from taking contributions greater than $200 from fossil fuel lobbyists, executives, or political action committees.
Their second demand is for Essex County to end its contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The county rents out county jail cells to ICE for detainment. The activists are calling on the county to stop profiting off immigration enforcement. Shapiro says that because climate change will create millions of refugees from uninhabitable environments, immigration is also a climate issue.
The third demand is for the state of New Jersey to replace all lead water pipes in Newark, with no strings attached. The city is in the process of replacing lead pipes, after toxic levels of lead were reported in the water supply, and will have to repay the state $70 million as a result.
Their fourth demand is for an end to all new fossil fuel projects in the state of New Jersey.
Barry said that the 2016 presidential election awakened a new interest in politics for him, but he had not been very active apart from reading articles.
“And that kind of pissed me off about myself,” he said. “So I just did something.”
Daphne Hansell is a senior at Montclair High School.