More than 1,000 people gathered outside Charlotte Mecklenburg Government Center on Friday afternoon to join a student strike calling for action on climate change -- and to hear 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.
Thunberg got her start as a climate activist by protesting alone outside the Swedish Parliament last year. Since then, she's helped build a global youth movement, in part by calling out world leaders for what she sees as inaction on climate change. She's been in the U.S. since September, when she took world leaders to task in a speech at the United Nations.
In Charlotte, she repeated those themes as she stood before a crowd of mostly young people.
"They continue to ignore us, and to ignore the current best available science. So we have no choice but to go on for as long as it takes," she said, drawing cheers. (Listen to her full speech below.)
Thunberg said the world's ecological emergency is dire, and young people can't wait until they're old enough to be the ones in charge.
"And if the adults and people in power are too immature to realize that, then we need to let them know, and we need to do it now," she said, "because this is our future, and we will not let it be taken away from us."
Thunberg followed a dozen speakers, including students from local public, private and charter schools, and UNC Charlotte. City council member Dimple Ajmera also spoke, as did state Rep. John Autry of Charlotte.
The event was hastily organized after Thunberg contacted Mary Ellis Stevens, a freshman at Myers Park High School who has been staging a weekly climate strike at the government center since March. To Stevens, it was a chance to meet her inspiration and build her own local movement.
"As I look out at all of you, I am overwhelmed with the potential that I see. I am over the moon to have Greta join my strike today," Stevens said.
Thunberg was a big draw. People started arriving for the midday rally soon after the morning rush hour. Some held signs such as "Winter Is NOT Coming," a reference to the TV series "Game of Thrones" and "Liar, Liar Earth's on Fire." Other signs targeted adults: "Not OK Boomer" and "We are skipping our lesson to teach YOU one."
There were chants of "Greta! Greta! Greta!" and "Unite behind the science, there is no Planet B."
Krissy Oliver-Mays took the day off from Community School of Davidson where she is a senior. She helped organize the event and said she became an activist after she researched global warming.
"I was kept up at night thinking about what our future is going to look like, and I knew that it was a call to action for me, and that I had to be part of this," Oliver Mays said. "It was not an option … It's not an option for us not to be a part of our future."
So what comes next? Organizer Mary Ellis Stevens said she hopes the rally will bring more people out to her Friday climate strikes, which Thunburg has united globally behind the hashtag #FridaysForFuture. And she used the spotlight to call on the mayor to bring back a stand-alone environment committee, which was folded into another committee earlier this year.
LISTEN TO THUNBERG'S SPEECH
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) November 8, 2019
— Julie J Eiselt (@JulieEiselt) November 8, 2019