In "The King and I,"Anna sings the captivating "Getting to Know You" (Richard Rodgers). It begins: “It's a very ancient saying, but a true and honest thought, that if you become a teacher, by your pupils you'll be taught.”
During the coming week, we all have the opportunity to learn from young people in our community and their counterparts from every corner of the earth about the impact of climate change and what we must do to alter the path we’ve been on if earth’s inhabitants are to survive.
On Wednesday Sept. 18, Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager credited with bringing the youth climate movement to life, told members of the U.S. Congress, “This is not the time and place for dreams, this is the time to wake up. This is the moment in history we need to be wide awake. Dreams cannot stand in the way of telling it like it is, especially not now.”
She went on to say, “Our main enemy is not our political opponents, our main enemy is physics and we cannot make a deal with physics.” She concluded, “I don’t want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to the scientists. And then I want you to take real action.”
Such is the wisdom of a child in braids with a quiet voice and a gentle smile.
Youth-led climate action, educational events and remarks before legislative bodies are underway with climate strikes in thousands of locations planned for Sept. 20 and other activities on tap for the intervening week.
There are those who advise caution when it comes to “rebellious” action on the part of young people. I understand their perspective. On the other hand, I also know that significant and successful protest movements have changed the course of history.
Regarding the actions and intentions of students worldwide over the coming week, Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International, issued a letter in support of the students to 30,000 school leaders around the world. Naidoo’s letter reads, in part:
“I am writing to you today about what I believe to be the single most important issue facing our current generation of children and how you can play a key role in enabling them to take action.
“The fact that children are missing classes to take part in this movement has, understandably, provoked strong reactions and concern. I understand the pressures you face as school leaders in navigating this challenge.
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“But, I believe the cause for which these children are fighting is of such historic significance that I am writing to you today with a request to neither prevent nor punish your pupils from taking part in the global days of strike.
“The climate emergency is the defining human rights issue for this generation of children. Its consequences will shape their lives in almost every way imaginable. The failure of most governments to act in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence is arguably the biggest inter-generational human rights violation in history.
“By taking part in these protests, children are exercising their human rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and to have a say in decisions and matters that affect their lives. In doing so, they are teaching us all a valuable lesson: the importance of coming together to campaign for a better future.
“While watching these protests gather pace, I can’t help but be reminded of my own past. At age 15, while at school in my native South Africa, I organized a protest against the apartheid system. I was expelled for this. It was a devastating moment for me.
“This setback redoubled my commitment to learning, and thankfully, I was able to complete my studies and ultimately take up the role I have the honor of holding today.
“My experience also informed my strong belief that children should not be punished for speaking out about the great injustices of our age. In fact, when it has fallen on young people to show the leadership that many adults who hold great position of power have failed to, it is not young people’s behavior we should be questioning. It is ours.”
With open minds and hearts, I hope those of us whose lives are mostly behind us will have the courage and wisdom to support and encourage the young people whose lives are mostly ahead of them.
I like to imagine that, when they are old and gray, today’s students will look back on these momentous times with the realization that their actions in 2019 made a difference for their grandchildren, that leaders did listen, that science prevailed, that businesses and governments did take responsible action and that the world became a better place, in part, because they raised their voices and demanded change.