WEST ORANGE, NJ — Svanfridur Mura spent four days between March and June protesting in front of West Orange’s Town Hall to ask the local and national governments to take action on climate change. The catch is that she skipped school to do it.
Mura, who will be in eighth grade at Roosevelt Middle School in the fall, decided to take matters into her own hands when she read the United Nations report from scientists that said there are only approximately 11 years left to do something about climate change before irreversible damage is done. She modeled her protest after “School Strikes for Climate Change” and “FridaysForFuture,” a movement started by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg in Sweden last year; in Thunberg’s movement, children are urged to skip school to protest in front of government buildings.
“I wanted to get West Orange more involved in climate change,” Mura said in a phone interview with the West Orange Chronicle on July 5. “We’ve been there for about two hours each time and have signs.”
The West Orange climate strikes aren’t as big as the strikes that started in Sweden, having at most five students on Main Street. Some days Mura has been the sole protester, but she stays with her signs to get the word out. Mura has also organized protests to be held after the school day is finished to involve students who do not want to miss class. Mura’s goal is to make more people aware of the implications of climate change.
“We talk to people at school and see if it’s something they’d be interested in,” she said about recruiting her fellow students to protest. “Sometimes there have been about five of us, sometimes just me. We’ve also done it after school a couple of times.”
Mura isn’t skipping school very often, and she has the support of her parents and a lot of teachers.
“My parents have been pretty supportive; it’s only one day a month,” she said. “Most teachers have been too, especially my science teachers. There hasn’t been too much pushback.”
Still though, there are students who haven’t been able to make the protests during school hours, which is why there have been a few after-school protests. But the point is to raise awareness, so discussing climate change with her fellow students is important to Mura as well.
“Even if they can’t strike, that’s one more person who knows what’s going on,” she said.
As for why she wants to protest instead of sitting in a classroom, Mura said the most important issue for young people today is climate change. They can’t vote for a few years and by the time they can, more damage might be done.
“School is one of the only things we have,” she said. “It’s the biggest thing we do. We’re preparing for the future now. But with climate change, we might not have that future. It seems like kind of a waste when we’re preparing to go to college to have a career that might not exist.”
Mura’s ultimate goal is to get the local and national governments to declare climate change a national emergency. But she also wants to educate people on how they can live greener lives.
“We want to encourage people to drive less, shop locally and reduce their carbon footprint,” Mura said. “We want to make our town more environmentally friendly. It’s not just in big cities where changes can be made; we can be making changes here, too.”
Photos Courtesy of Svanfridur Mura