CHARLOTTE – Myers Park freshman Mary Ellis Stevens was in her biology class when she received a surprise.
She opened Twitter and saw a message from international environmental activist Greta Thunberg, who is known for leading weekly climate strikes.
In less than 48 hours, Stevens teamed up with several climate activists, leaders and groups in Charlotte to organize a citywide climate strike Nov. 8, where Thunberg spoke to more than 700 attendees.
A presenter called Stevens “Charlotte’s very own Greta Thunberg.”
“When I started striking, I thought I would be doing this alone,” Stevens said to the crowd. “Look at us now.”
Fourteen-year-old Ellis told the crowd that continuing to treat the planet poorly is dangerous and she considers it betrayal. She urged the crowd to continue striking, contacting politicians and creating change beyond the event.
Other speakers included Charlotte City Council member-at-large Dimple Ajmera, who chaired the city’s environment committee, and N.C. Rep. John Autry.
While speakers came from different backgrounds, their overarching message was clear: the hope of the planet’s future climate is in the hands of the youth.
“While we young people may not be able to vote today, we have something just as powerful, and that is our voices,” Thunberg said. “And we must use them.”
Many young people have identified with Thunberg’s message.
Katherine Mims and Rennie Parker drove with a group of friends from Winston-Salem after hearing the night before that Thunberg would attend the strike.
“Seeing a 16-year-old, the same age as us, doing so much for the earth and in general is so inspiring to see and we wanted to at least add a little bit to that,” Katherine Mims said.
Parker said Thunberg inspired them to get involved so they can have a say in the world they will live in.
“We’re not going to be young people forever,” Parker said. “Someday, we’re going to be the people that are making decisions and we need to educate the public now.”
Autry echoed the same sentiment in his remarks. He told them that it is important to elect leaders who will create a positive, safe future for the young people.
Autry said he refuses to leave the earth an unsafe place for his grandchildren to grow up in.
“I am inspired by all the young people who are taking on this movement,” Autry told the audience. “Because the old, crusty guys like me aren’t going to be around to deal with the results of their own actions.”
Ajmera told the attendees to continue to raise their voices and show up where it matters the most: the ballot boxes. She said despite the United States pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, the city has committed to reaching its climate goals.
Central Piedmont Middle College student Parker Taylor said while the issue affects the globe, change can start in Charlotte.
“It’s all about taking small steps at a time,” Taylor said. “When everybody does something small, it adds up to something really big. Charlotte, even though it’s a small city in the grand scheme of the world, if we take action here to make a change, that will ripple out to the rest of the world.”
Thunberg said she did not see hope in the administration in Washington right now, but rather found it in the activists trying to make a change.
“The people are the hope right now,” Thunberg said. “Humanity is now standing at a crossroads, and when we look back at this crucial time, we want to be able to say that we did everything we possibly could to push the world in the right direction.”