It is not unusual for political demonstrations to be staged at the Santa Fe Plaza. But rarely has a protest been populated — let alone led — by people so young.
A crowd of about 500, many of them children, gathered at the Plaza on Friday morning, clinging to handmade posters reading “Make the Earth Cooler” and yelling chants like “Soul, Not Coal.”
They weren’t alone: Inspired by the efforts of Swedish teen Greta Thunberg — recently nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to influence environmental policy change — waves of children and teens from more than 120 countries and 2,000 communities skipped school Friday to participate in the inaugural Youth Climate Strike.
The message was similar regardless of the locale: The time to fight climate change is now. And for many young people, that message resonates in Santa Fe.
Hannah Laga Abram, a senior at the Santa Fe Waldorf School and one of the local event’s lead organizers, called climate change an “overwhelming crisis.”
Others agreed, including Alyssa Ruiz, a 16-year-old student from Albuquerque’s Sandia High School. Ruiz said she decided at a young age that she would do whatever she could to help protect the environment.
“I value everything about our Earth,” she said. “Every plant, every species, is a tremendous loss.”
Many adults attending the strike said they were regretful their generation has not done more to protect the Earth.
John Thayer of Mora was among them.
“I’m ashamed of the world we are leaving our children and grandchildren,” he said, adding he not only believes in a “sunrise movement of young people, but a sunset movement of older people here to support them.”
“Time is running out,” he said.
Lisa Smith, who attended the event with her 15-year-old daughter, Indigo Austin, agreed.
“We all need to support each other if we want to make a change,” said Smith.
After the group marched from the Plaza to the state Capitol, Laga Abram watched protesters file into the Rotunda on the last full day of the legislative session. Eventually, demonstrators overflowed into the building’s second floor.
“This is like my dream come true,” Laga Abram said.
Once settled, kids from the Sierra Club’s Global Warming Express — an Albuquerque-based program that aims to educate children about science, sustainability and political action — spoke about the need for solar farms, ending the burning of fossil fuels, protecting endangered wildlife and recognizing the ways energy companies are “ruining our lives.”
One by one, educators, parents, teens and children volunteered to speak up about their concerns.
Lilith Clark, a 14-year-old student from Albuquerque High School, said she worries that some people think the “going green” movement is only intended for a certain kind of “hippie” group.
Outfitted in a Nirvana T-shirt and old-school Converse sneakers, Clark acknowledged she wasn’t “the kind of person to go up and hug a tree” and said she prefers punk rock over playing in nature. But she noted the recent warning from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that the world has less than 12 years to combat catastrophic global warming made an impact.
“If that doesn’t concern you, I don’t know what will,” she said.
Clark said she’s worried adults are too apathetic about climate change, forcing teens to take the lead.
“For them, 12 years feels longer, but for us, 12 years is much closer,” she said.
Before the participants retrieved their posters and went home, Laga Abram emphasized this type of youth-led effort isn’t a once-a-year cry for help.
“This is a fight that never ends,” she said.
Editor’s note: Hannah Laga Laga Abram is a contributor to The New Mexican’s weekly Generation Next page, which is produced by high school students.