Last Friday afternoon, I hopped off the 4 train with a handful of friends and dashed over to The Battery to hear Greta Thunberg speak following the New York City Climate Strike. She had been the talk of campus for a few days — how could she not be? A teenage girl taking matters into her own hands, sailing across the Atlantic from Sweden to New York because she practices what she preaches, all because she's realized the people in power aren't going to do anything for her. I was thrilled to get to see her in person.
When Greta spoke, it was everything I thought it would be. Eloquent. Passionate. Not about her in the slightest, but about all of us, the planet we live on, and the scientists we need to be listening to. "Wow," I thought to myself, "This is an incredible young woman. There's no way you couldn't respect her."
Wow, was I wrong.
After Thunberg delivered a passionate speech in front of the United Nations Monday in a bout of what could only be described as righteous anger, all right-wing hell broke loose. This girl, who has given up countless days of education to strike for a livable world has been compared to the children of the corn by Laura Ingraham. A Fox News guest derisively wrote her off as "a mentally ill Swedish child," simultaneously delegitimizing the very legitimate concerns of young people about their future and implying that having Asperger's makes one incapable of being an intelligent activist. This is ableist and also blatantly false. Her most recent Instagram posts have been bombarded by people calling her a political prop, an actress, and a liar.
Here's what I don't think the people on TV and Twitter snidely opining on Greta Thunberg understand: young people are pissed.
Every day, we wake up to see a world where the leaders the previous generations elected refuse to take action as we get gunned down in schools and won't lift a finger to save the planet we will inherit if it means they lose a few bucks in the process. And by attacking a young woman for expressing those concerns they're reaffirming what most of us already know: they don't care. The same people passing legislation forcing teenagers to carry unwanted pregnancies to term are now pretending that a 16-year-old is incapable of rational thought. They say we should be listening to scientists instead of children when all Greta Thunberg has ever said she wanted was for people to believe the scientific evidence for climate change that scientists have been presenting for years. The president is mocking a teenage girl whose adulthood is going to be defined by a rapidly heating planet by implying she should just shut be and be happy.
As one of the older members of Generation Z (I'll be 19 in October), I know my generation. We're angry, definitely, but we're also informed. Yesterday was National Voter Registration Day, and I saw 15-year-olds urging those who could to register. I saw middle schoolers from my hometown marching in climate strikes. I've seen high schoolers the same age as Greta Thunberg organize school walkouts. Young people have realized that we're the future and that no one's going to look out for us on these issues except for us.
The 2018 midterms were the first time anyone from Generation Z was eligible to vote and we turned out at rates seven points higher than both Millennials and Generation X did in their first elections. So these people can keep underestimating us if they want. But don't think for a second that the millions of teenagers watching pundits and politicians alike insult Greta Thunberg as a clueless child aren't watching. And don't think for a second they won't be voting the officials who refuse to take them seriously out of office the second they're able.