Climate action: More than 100,000 march through Manhattan

Activist Greta Thunberg joins demonstration as crowds bring New York to standstill

New York hosted the largest of Friday's climate action rallies with well in excess of 100,000 people marching through Lower Manhattan demanding greater efforts to protect the environment. It was a fitting display of solidarity with Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who prompted the school strikes for climate movement, who, afterall, was in their midst.

The crowds were so big that the New York Police Department had to shut down many adjoining streets in Lower Manhattan including the exit from Brooklyn Bridge. An hour after the first rally began, protesters were still streaming out of the subways; many armed with home-made placards.

A representative from organisers New York FridayForFuture told the approving crowd, “We are at 3 million worldwide right now!”

“Guys, there are people for miles in every single direction,” she added.


“This can only be fantasy,” Thunberg declared in response the latest manifestation of a global environmental movement that started out with just her and is now made of up of millions, who are mainly her peers.

"Lower Manhattan is absolutely packed with people. It will take ages for everyone to get to Battery Park, " she tweeted.

As the lead marchers turned into City Hall Square, it was almost full too and more protesters surged forward as differing chants rang out from different locations.

With her typical restraint in an earlier video message, Thunberg (16) said “marches like these won’t change everything”. But she added that she regarded them as “social tipping points” that will force governments to take action.

She walked with the strikers, not quite at the frontline, with her now famous poster – “School strike for climate” (in Swedish) – tucked under her arm.

The US more than matched the world as from early morning, from the east to the west coasts, hundreds of thousands of pupils began streaming out of classes. In many instances, teachers and parents accompanied them to their local rallies. Young people dominated, but it was clearly an inter-generational gesture, with a great many joining a public protest for the first time.

More than 300 of the 600 students from Ethical Culture Fieldston School in the Bronx were at the main New York rally, according to maths teacher Gia Moreno, while those who stayed in school participated in climate workshops. Her colleague, science teacher Juan Botella stressed, "our participation is student-led".

There was no mention of US president Donald Trump at the Foley Square rally, and he featured infrequently on posters. The dominant messaging on the placards was about saving the Planet – with slogans that grew in Europe clearly now taking hold in the US.

Meanwhile, it was confirmed that Mr Trump is set to attend UN headquarters in New York during Monday’s global summit on the climate crisis but will be there to take part in a meeting on religious freedom instead.

He has booked one of the large conference rooms so the he can address a gathering on the subject.

The Big Apple was most definitely green on Friday, and if the next generation who took to streets in such vast numbers have their way, it will soon be permanently that colour.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times