Teens, 13 and 14, lead hundreds in Charlotte climate change protest

Hundreds of Charlotte area youth skipped school and work on Friday to stage a ‘die-in’ in uptown, protesting what they call government inaction on climate change.

“We are skipping our lessons to teach one,” read a placard held by 21-year-old UNC Charlotte senior Jonese Pipkin at the protest outside the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center.

“Climate change is not going to stop for school,” 17-year-old Weddington High School student Joyce Zhang told The Charlotte Observer. She and seven classmates joined the protest. They are all members of their Union County school’s environmental club.

The students joined what were expected to be millions of people worldwide skipping school and work for “climate strikes” to urge action on climate change, CBS News reported. Strikes were expected in more than 150 countries, according to the network.

A Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officer present at the Government Center Friday estimated about 250 people were there. Student organizers said about 400 people attended.

“Charlotte, wake up,” the crowd at the government center chanted. “Climate change is real.”

Speaking through a microphone, 13-year-old Lucia Paulsen said it’s up to youth to spur change.

Paulsen helped organize Friday’s rally with 14-year-old Kate Harrison, a fellow 8th grader at the Charlotte public charter school Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy, and 14-year-old Myers Park High School ninth-grader Mary Ellis Stevens. They help lead the statewide, student-led N.C. Climate Strike movement, too.

“Us youth are forced to grow up and become adults for the adults that can’t seem to comprehend basic knowledge,” Paulsen told the crowd. “The success of a social movement always comes hand-in-hand with social change.”

Some adults mixed in, and former Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts also took to the microphone. She cited the current edition of National Geographic magazine that gives an A-plus for environmental action to India, Costa Rica and Morocco and a “barely trying” mark to the U.S., Russia and Saudi Arabia.

The Charlotte rally ended with a “die-in,” where everyone lay down as if dead due to climate inaction. The message, however, was one of hope through collective will, students said

“Make your voices heard,” urged Roberts, who said she road a bicycle to the event.

To applause, she said, “We all have the power. Because we are the people.”

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Joe Marusak has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1989 covering the people, municipalities and major news events of the region, and was a news bureau editor for the paper. He currently reports on breaking news.