Illustration by Noah Mayers

Seas Rising Up, Youth Rising Up
On Friday several self-directed learning centers in New York City joined thousands of other young people worldwide as they walked out of school on climate strike

Seas Rising Up!

Youth Climate Strike, City Hall, New York City, March 15, 2019
Outside City Hall in NYC on Friday, photo by James Khost

At 5:06pm this past Friday evening I got my first of several text alerts. It was from Abby Oulton, the Co-Director of the Agile Learning Center in New York City, who wrote, “Noah successfully got arrested.” And so, I dug around on Facebook for a while and found the live stream footage I was looking for: the arrest of my boss and friend, Noah Apple Mayers, Founder and Director of Brooklyn Apple Academy, a Self-Directed Education (SDE) unschooling center in Brooklyn, NY. He was with Janna Beckler, a friend and the mother of two of our students, and a group of other people I did not know, arms locked, smiling and standing in the middle of Central Park West in uptown Manhattan, carrying out an act of civil disobedience. Moments later some police handcuffed them all and took them out of the camera frame. Dozens of young people stood behind and on the sidewalk nearby in support. This was a part of the March 15th Youth Climate Strike that took place worldwide, with thousands and thousands of young people everywhere walking out of school in protest over inaction on climate change.

A group of people on a New York City subway platform
“This is our crew heading to City Hall!” photo by Janna Beckler

At 8:50am that same day I had dropped my oldest son off at Dida Academy, yet another NYC SDE center. I hugged him goodbye and told him to be careful at the strike he had chosen to go to that day. At 10:59am Janna, sent me a photo of James and some other Dida representatives as well as her own Brooklyn Apple Academy children on a subway platform with the caption, “This is our crew heading to City Hall!” James agreed to be my photographer and provided some of the images of the protest included here.

After dropping off James, my middle child Oliver and I biked on the extra mile to Apple to hold down the space, which was missing many of the regular young people that day, as they all had walked out as part of the Youth Climate Strike. Noah stayed at Apple until lunch time. I watched him empty out his pockets into a brown paper bag he hid on a high shelf of the center, and he gave me unusual instructions about closing up that day, explaining that he would not be back, since he would hopefully be in jail that evening.

Noah, Janna, and others as part of the NYC Extinction Rebellion (XR) arrests on Friday, video by Michael Glennon

Noah, Janna and the others in the video who were arrested were a part of a worldwide socio-political collective known as Extinction Rebellion (XR) that uses nonviolent resistance tactics– including getting arrested– in order to raise awareness of the climate change emergency that they and many others believe has the human race near the brink of extinction. XR had been invited to participate in Friday’s strike by the organizing youth to help add extra weight to the already monumental youth-led event that was unfolding across the globe that day.

Youth Rising Up!

Youth Climate Strike, City Hall, New York City, March 15, 2019
Outside City Hall in NYC on Friday, photo by James Khost

The youth initiation and participation in the recent world-wide climate protests has truly been awe inspiring. These are individuals boldly questioning the authority that has the ability to make the real differences needed right now with regard to climate change. These qualities of foresight, ambition, organization, and bravery that these young people have portrayed has continually reminded me of the qualities I have seen so regularly in young people who have spent good portions of their lives in self-directed educational environments.

Both at the youth strike and generally within SDE, these are young people engaged, unafraid to pursue their passions despite convention, people taking control of their own future because they realize that they are the only ones with their own best interest in mind and the best interest of the future planet that is theirs to inherit. And so, it did not come as a surprise to me to hear the stories of many New York City self-directed youth participating in the climate protests this past Friday.

As Eve Mosher wrote to me Saturday night, “Noah and I were laughing (after he got out of jail) that Apple probably had the highest percentage of youth from any other school at the protest.” Eve and I started the junk playground play:groundNYC together, and her nine year old son Zayne Cowie, who has attended Brooklyn Apple Academy for years was recently featured in a New York Times video reading a book, Goodbye, Earth, which calls out the adults who have failed to address climate change.

Zayne and Orion Cowie, Fridays for Future
Zayne and his sister Orion outside of City Hall in January as part of #FridaysForFuture

Just feet from where Noah and Janna were arrested, Zayne reported live (starting at 2:04 in the video) on Friday to ABC News, “You can see the effects right now– the fires, the tornadoes– and the increase in that has skyrocketed. And why it’s so urgent is because we have until 2030 to cut emissions to zero otherwise the climate change will be irreversible.” Zayne is of course referring to the U.N. Climate Change Report in which scientists from around the world (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC) stated that the worst effects of climate change will be unstoppable by 2030 if the world continues on the current (and thus far unchanging) temperature rise increase trajectory, reaching a total 1.5° celsius increase.

This past Friday Zayne spoke at City Hall, but unlike many others who walked out of school for their first time, this was just another Friday protest for him. Zayne was initially inspired by the work of sixteen year old Nobel Peace Prize nominated climate activist Greta Thunberg. And so, starting this past December, he opted out of spending his Fridays at Brooklyn Apple Academy and instead has joined the Fridays for Future movement started by Thunberg, opting out of school to instead protest climate change in front of NYC City Hall every Friday since, rain or shine.

video by James Khost

A Self-Directed Future?

I asked some other people from the Self-Directed Education community in New York City about their experiences walking out of school in protest for their first time this past Friday. Here was what they had to say:

Even, a young teen from the Agile Learning Center in New York City left school with his school Co-Director, Abby Oulton, the one who sent me that initial text. Even described to me his experience at the protests,

About 10 minutes after I arrived, the whole group started going north along the east sidewalk adjacent to Central Park West, chanting, until eventually we got to the Natural History Museum entrance, where we filled the steps and sidewalk in front of the museum’s entrance, rallied, heard a speaker and then laid down on the ground in order to symbolize what would happen if we continued on the path that humans are going on right now. Then we began marching further north and there were three attempts to blockade the street and stop traffic. The third attempt was successful and the protesters essentially entered three camps. The first camp was the people who left the scene at that point, primarily after a short, physical encounter with the police. The second camp barred the street. And the third camp, which was the one that I was a part of, stayed along the sidewalk, encouraging the people in the street and continuing to protest. About 10 minutes afterward, me and my mom started walking home.

The first blockade Even described was the one in which Noah and Janna were arrested. It was at the third camp that Zayne and others from Agile, Dida and Apple also stood and protested. Even went on to say,

I think it was great seeing a bunch of young people striking. It sort of just inspired me. I don’t think a single student strike would be enough to make a change. But hopefully if strikes like this continue, something will happen. With the blockading of the street, I was somewhat scared because the police were there and they were arresting adults. I was sort of excited that something was happening, too. I was happy that we were making more of a statement.

I think [we should] pressure members of Congress to act, continue striking, and try to do things personally that will be better for the environment.

Janna’s husband Bill interviewed their nine year old son Solomon, who attends Brooklyn Apple Academy with Noah and me. Here were his thoughts about Friday’s climate strike and his mom choosing to get arrested,

video by Bill Beckler

Jude, a thirteen year old unschooler from Brooklyn who sometimes also goes to Brooklyn Apple Academy attended the climate strike, standing alongside James and a group of other Apple youth at City Hall. He commented to me,

To be honest, I am sick of having a President who does not believe in science. You can think what you’d like to think, you can say what you’d like to say, but there is no denying that our planet is dying.

What should we do to change it?

We must stop using fossil fuels, stop using nuclear power, so on and so forth. There are a lot of things we can do to stop or maybe help slow down climate change....Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. Like a house, you must repair it, sweep the floors, wash the dishes, repair a boiler etc. In summary, you must keep it clean. In this case, the planet is our home, and we too must care for it and keep it clean. Let us create a clean, kind, and beautiful world where we can all live united as one and live in peace.

Youth Climate Strike, City Hall, New York City, March 15, 2019
“The police made him come down!” photo by James Khost

And Tara, a thirteen year old Dida Academy unschooler who commuted to the City Hall protest with James and the others in the subway photo Janna snapped wrote to me,

I attended the youth strike for climate protest as a means of bringing attention to the things that could be done in New York State irrespective of the federal inaction to improve the sustainability of our state’s population and thus improve climate change. I knew this event would get some press coverage. And generally, once publications begin talking about protests, they then talk about the change the protests brought about, inspire more of their readership to attend, and the change possibility is increased as people form connections and come around to new ways of non-violently expressing their distaste.

I was very surprised [to find out] that people had been arrested, the contingency of people attempting to move into the street. I decided not to support due to the fact that there was a police blockade next to AMNH [American Museum of Natural History, where the arrests took place] that clearly would forcibly remove the masses from going onto such a busy street if necessary. I think that as a protester, you need to be very morally aware, and aware of the effects of mob mentality, and only go “as far” as you think is not ultimately harmful. That isn’t any disrespect to those who got arrested, they used their autonomy to make a decision, hopefully in full knowledge of its possible consequences.

Finally, I asked Noah to clarify his involvement in Friday’s event. Why get involved in a strike youth were organizing? What is Extinction Rebellion? Why get arrested? And so on... Noah wonderfully spent the weekend responding in comic book form. Below are his drawings. You can click on the images to see high resolution versions of each:

Youth Climate Strike, illustration by Noah Mayers
Illustration by Noah Mayers

Youth Climate Strike, illustration by Noah Mayers
Illustration by Noah Mayers

Youth Climate Strike, illustration by Noah Mayers
Illustration by Noah Mayers

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