By DEBORAH ANN TRIPOLDI
Chants of “Climate change is not a lie! Do not let our planet die!” and “Hey ho, hey ho, climate change has to go!” could be heard on the streets of Montclair last Friday.
Over 500 Montclair High School students filled the amphitheater to protest climate change on Friday morning, March 15. After the short protest there, approximately 75 students continued the protest marching to the Montclair Municipal Building on Claremont Avenue. The students gathered on the steps of the Municipal Building singing “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie.
Juniors Hazel Togman and Saumaya Schneider organized the walkout event at Montclair High School and signed up for it to join in solidarity in the Global Climate Strike walkout inspired by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. A few of their classmates reached out to them to help.
Togman advised her classmates to shut their cars off when they arrive for school and at lunch time because idling is bad for the environment. If you want to see change, you need to go vote, she said.
Passers-by honked their horns, waving their hands out the windows and shouting in support.
More students came out than Togman and Schneider expected. Very few teachers threatened students that participated with a zero for a quiz grade, but students who marched off school property were marked absent from their class, Togman said in a phone interview.
Most students were supportive, and those who didn’t participate were afraid of the zero grade. “Not many were against the movement,” Schneider said in a separate phone interview.
Schneider, who is part of the school’s CSJ (Center for Social Justice) program, said that most of the teachers were supportive, especially Principal Anthony Grosso. “Mr. Grosso did everything in his power he could, without taking part,” said Schneider.
Togman has always been environmentally active. “I recently learned how urgent this is. It’s the most prevalent problem and not much has been done to solve it,” she said.
She is also lobbying for the environmental commission’s push for stores to stop carrying single-use plastic bags, and for the food trucks at the high school to cease using Styrofoam take-out containers.
“The U.S. is one the biggest carbon polluters in history. I leave a very low carbon footprint,” Schneider added.
Schneider and her family use metal straws, reusable lunch boxes and water bottles. She is a vegetarian and her family joined with Montclair CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) to purchase local food from farmers from New Jersey including dairy, meat and vegetables.
One of Schneider’s inspirations to take part in the protest was her disappointment learning the U.S. backed out of the Paris agreement. “We need to start doing more. We need to force our government to start taking action.”
The students got their message out in their CSJ classes and on social media platforms, such as Instagram and Facebook, asking the students to join them in the walkout last Friday.
Togman said the students are planning to have another protest in front of the NJ state house in Trenton in the near future aiming for Earth Day, April 22.