My Experience Hosting a Small Town Climate Strike: Breaking the Intergenerational Divide

By Ella Niederhelman

My small coastal town of Ipswich, Massachusetts is a town of approximately 14,000 people, located in Cape Ann. With Crane Beach, the Ipswich River, and the Great Marsh of Critical Environmental Concern located within our town borders, I have experienced tremendous benefit from living near these vast natural ecosystems and deeply understand the responsibility and environmental concerns that come with them from quite a young age.

I am currently a sophomore attending Ipswich High School. This past summer I attended the inaugural Harvard Chan C-CHANGE Youth Climate Summit alongside sixty other students selected from across the United States. When I returned to Ipswich, I published an Op-Ed in our local paper, the Ipswich Local News, where I am a freelance reporter providing a voice for the younger generation of Ipswich. 

Months later, I heard of an opportunity through the Harvard C-CHANGE program — to become a Climate for Health and Harvard C-CHANGE Climate Ambassador. I was certified in October 2021 after undergoing Zoom training. 

Inspired by the world-wide climate strike organized and orchestrated by Fridays for a Future this past fall, I felt that my community needed to take vocal action. Feeling that my community would take greater steps by witnessing the strike with their own eyes, I was quick to register Ipswich on the Fridays For a Future map. I wrote a description in my local paper calling my community to action with our own local strike.

To spread the message to students I made announcements on the Ipswich Middle and High School Green Team and Environmental Club Google Classrooms. I also placed a few sentences in my school’s daily announcements, alongside a message to be read to all Ipswich middle schoolers. I posted on my social media accounts in an attempt to reach and inform a broader audience.

It paid off.

On Sunday, October 3, 2021 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., many Ipswich residents gathered in our town center with imaginative and powerful signs.

Two young girls from families that were present held a sign that quoted The Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” They smiled and waved at cars, counting the honks as they drove by.

 Multiple members and chairs of our local Climate Resiliency Committee joined with signs urging respect for what we all share — our planet.

Three teenagers held signs begging for all to listen to the science, and the frightening, eye-opening IPCC report. “This is Code Red for humanity,” one sign read.

 Two middle school boys also joined the small crowd. One held a simple message on reused cardboard, saying that “our planet is dying.” Another held a sign that simply read, “Help.”

After speaking with almost all of the people who had gathered in our town center, the message was overwhelmingly clear. The families, adults, teenagers, and young kids, many of which had come to strike alone, knew of the power that hope and positivity hold in combating the climate crisis together through collective action.

Despite the generational divides, everyone arrived that Sunday with a unified sense of urgency and hope for change.

International scale change is grounded in local action. Everybody upon this planet will feel the direct consequence of climate change. This cascading crisis is spreading rapidly, often alongside an overwhelming sense of doom.

 It is discouraging at times. A mindset centered upon the belief that one cannot truly make a difference and a consequent lack of motivation has gradually grown with age for many. At sixteen, I am already a witness to a frightening amount of inaction and apathy surrounding me daily.

Growing up and advocating in a global pandemic, it is important to remember that all generations can unite with a joint sense of urgency. 

We can all educate and inspire through positivity. We can all share our stories. We can all start making a difference.

I truly believe that we can do it together. But we must start now.

Ella Niederhelman is a freelance journalist at the Ipswich Local News and a student at Ipswich High School. Niederhelman was certified in October 2021 as a climate ambassador with Harvard T.H. Chan C-CHANGE and Climate for Health after attending the inaugural Harvard Chan C-CHANGE youth climate summer this past summer.

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