A large crowd gathered at Hemming Park in Downtown Jacksonville Friday to participate in a youth-led climate strike.
The event was part of a global movement to call for swift action on climate change.
— Alex Steffen (@AlexSteffen) September 20, 2019
Several young people spoke at the event in Jacksonville, discussing climate change and its impacts on the River City, the Green New Deal, and even the importance of local elections.
“Voting is important,” said Ella Humphries, a 16-year-old student at Stanton College Preparatory School in Jacksonville. “Do you remember the mayor from Jaws? He was still the mayor in Jaws 2. That’s a problem.”
Nathan Geiger, an assistant professor of communication science at Indiana University’s media school, said these types of marches and rallies have two goals: “to influence politicians, policymakers, people of power in this country; and also to influence public opinion.”
While it remains to be seen whether these strikes lead to policy changes, Geiger said there is evidence that they can sway public opinion.
In a study conducted before and after the People’s Climate March in April of 2017, Geiger and his coauthors found the event did in fact change public opinion.
“The marches positively impacted people's perception of climate advocates. In particular, the marches seemed to reduce people's perception of climate advocates as being arrogant or dictatorial,” he said. “The other thing that we found was that people's perception of the extent to which groups of people could work together on solving problems, such as climate change, had increased.”
Geiger said that second finding is particularly interesting when you factor in the type of media being consumed.
“People consuming conservative media were more pessimistic about people's ability to work together before the marches. But after the marches, we found that conservative media consumers’ pessimism had decreased,” Geiger explained. “They became more hopeful about people's ability to work together.”
In fact, conservative media consumers’ level of hopefulness after the march seemed to mirror that of liberal media consumers.
“The marches had a depolarizing impact on people,” said Geiger.
Because these strikes are youth-led, they may be especially effective at breaking through political divides, according to Geiger.
“Research suggests, at least in some situations, that young people can be among the most effective communicators at persuading people about climate change,” he said. “Because of the fact that they're younger, they have this sort of unique ability to break through and communicate on certain polarized issues where adults may not be able to do so.”
In other words, young people may be able to escape assumptions that they’re acting on behalf of a political agenda or for monetary gain.
“It'll be really interesting to see whether these youth have an impact on changing the conversation, potentially the same way that the March For Our Lives movement may have done with young people getting involved with taking action on gun control,” Geiger said.
The planning of Jacksonville’s climate strike was spearheaded by 15-year-old Katie Carlson, another Stanton College Preparatory School student.
Carlson has never organized or led an event before, but she felt a strong sense of urgency.
“I had been hearing about the strikes, but no one had done anything here. So I said, ‘We're not going to have a strike if I don't organize it.’ And that's what I did,” she said.
— Brendan Rivers (@BrendanRivers) September 20, 2019
Her priority from the beginning was to make this a youth-led and youth-focused event.
“This is a cliche, but we are the future,” she said. “We are the ones who will be living with the effects of climate change, we will be experiencing the results of these resolutions passed, and we will be the ones to see how everything works out.”
During the strike, attendees were registering to vote and signing a petition urging Mayor Lenny Curry to make a pledge. That pledge would see the mayor commit to taking no more than $200 in contributions from sources associated with fossil fuel and to support the Green New Deal.
The strike was held across the street from City Hall, but Curry didn’t make an appearance. However, Carlson is determined to sit down with the mayor and voice her concerns.
“We have the pledge printed out. We’ll try to organize a meeting with him at some point to get him to sign it. It would be lovely if he could,” she said.