Reflections from the New York City Climate Strike

By Maggie Berke

I began September’s Climate Strike at a church packed with teenagers and their chaperones, and wondered if I was the only non-religious person there. St. Paul’s Chapel of Trinity, a quick walk from Foley Square, opened their space, gave free breakfast and paint and cardboard to all of us. I met up with a dear friend and some teens she was chaperoning from her church. She was busy fulfilling her role as a family minister, referring to everyone present as “Friend.” I was busy making small talk with some folks in collars, wondering if they could sense my unbelonging. 

Student holds a burning house at the NYC Climate Strike, a reference to Greta Thunberg's words, "Our house is on fire."

Youth rally at the 2019 Climate Strike in New York City

I have always been fearful that in religious spaces people are able to immediately pick up on my lack of faith, a non-believer in their midst. Yet as I carried this grain of insecurity with me, I had to stop and consider that a protest and a service aim to achieve the same goals. A protest unifies, as any service aims to do. A protest reminds us what we have to fight for, and why it matters. The environment that can get our otherwise isolated selves to wish peace on our neighbors is the same one that has us teaching and learning new chants and showing the 6 year-olds how to use a megaphone. A protest grounds us, pushes us to construct the world we want to be part of.

As I reflect on that day, I can not help but realize that the climate strike restored my commitment to compassion in the face of uncertainty.

And that feels a lot like faith to me. I’ve never been to a church service that I connected with, that is, until I attended the climate strike. Beginning my day at church set the tone but since that day I have been thinking a lot about the holy nature of direct action.

Thousands of people attended the Climate Strike in NYC

Thousands of people marching for their future in New York City

I do not mean to assign strict religious meaning or symbolism to the dedicated organizing of these youth. I mean only to say that they reoriented my own thinking, and helped me to remember that the affiliation or community we may lack within a particular faith can be found in movement organizing, and the unifying force of a cause worth fighting for. 

What I found particularly impactful is that the youth do not hesitate to be honest.

While the truth of the climate crisis is without a doubt overwhelming, I’ve found that adults respond to it by thinking within our systems, retreating it always seems, to market-based solutions. Constrained by what is in front of us, what we understand, sometimes it can feel like adults lack the imagination to tackle a problem so large. But these teenagers, they believe in what they do not yet see. They believe in the possibility of a new, different, and just world.

Youth, whether because of their lack of formal status within larger systems, or because of the sheer uncertainty of their futures, give us all the permission to think outside of the system. Whereas all too many adults look to the market to correct what the market has bore, the children are thinking differently. Their ears are to the ground, and the sky, to the forest floor and the sidewalk, they are listening to the environment, not the invisible hand. Their minds are not constrained to the market, and to face this problem, our minds must not be constrained to the market either.

We should watch closely as the children believe in a world system they can not yet see, and take this as a lesson in applied faith. 

Greta Thunberg spoke at the New York City Climate Strike

Greta Thunberg, speaking at Battery Park said, “This is the biggest climate strike in the history of the world.”

As an activist, I have often been intimidated away from action by my own perceived lack of knowledge. When I let fear control my actions, I never end up acting, I stay quiet and convinced I do not belong. I would bet most of us feel this way from time to time. Yet, on that Friday, only a year since Greta Thunberg began striking, alone, outside of the Swedish Parliament, between 6 and 7 million people worldwide joined her. We alone are fearful, but together we are certain. What the youth reminded me was that expertise is not a substitute for emotion. Facts do not always convince us the way that fear does.

The voices of the youth are clear — they do not get a future if we do not change our world.

People chanted and waved signs, demanding justice at the Climate Strike

NYC public school students (1.1 million of them) were excused from classes on Friday to participate in the Climate Strike.

And this month, I was honored to stand amongst them, when chanting carried the weight of hymnal, and we were all invited to imagine a different future. 

No one here had to be a scientist to become a leader. We only had to understand that the climate crisis will unify us, whether it be as quiet victims or as rising activists. It is not the responsibility of the youth to lead us, or present us with solutions. But we may all be better off by observing their abandon, the force of their determination, their willingness to show up, as experts or not. And we will all be better off by realizing that the community we seek may be right in front of us, on the picket line, or the school strike. That the collective imagining of a just world is a worthy, and holy project.

The children and teenagers at the climate strike push us to think outside of our worlds, breaking down the walls of an economic system that works for so few. The children and teenagers of the climate strike push us to turn to our neighbor, and wish for peace in the form of a call to action. 

About the Activist:

Maggie Berke is a postpartum doula invested in the fight for comprehensive reproductive justice. She has a background in LGBT+ advocacy and education, and lives in Brooklyn. In her free time, she is writing poetry or participating in theatre projects. You can find her @goldenhourpostpartum and @maybemaggiewill on Instagram. 

Maggie attended YEA Camp for Adults in Summer 2019. We are so grateful she joined us.


Maggie is one of many former campers and staff members to partake in the 2019 Climate Strike. Check out this recent blog post about other YEA Camp Alumni who lead Climate Strikes in their communities. We are so proud of every camp member who takes what they learn at camp and uses it to make a bigger impact in whatever way makes sense for them.

If you’d like to learn more about how to advocate for environmental justice and other causes you care about, join us at YEA Camp for teens or YEA Camp for Adults. We will be announcing our 2020 summer dates soon. Looking to add to your activist tool belt in the meantime? Click here to download our free ebook, The Beginner’s Guide to Changing the World!