Speak Now

Nargis KachrumathurJuly 27, 2023CourageAwesome Moments

Artwork by Iryna Tsisaruk, age 14

Artwork by Iryna Tsisaruk, age 14, Ukraine

It was a different kind of thrill - having the curious attention of people in the traffic zeroed in on me - knowing that they would probably forget anything they saw by the next day, but just for now, it would make a difference.

Or perhaps they would think about it later: a line of ragtag teenagers on the sidewalk holding up signs with pleas, urges and demands to save the planet, to live sustainably, and to wake up to our fast approaching, and very real, destruction.

This was the first protest I organized, as a part of the 2022 Global Climate Strike, with a goal to promote environmental awareness and responsibility. Although the rush of energy I felt while standing on the side of the road was the most memorable part, there was a complicated process in order to make that happen. To organize the protest, I obtained permission from local authorities to assemble in a public place and hold up signs regarding the climate emergency. My father and I trudged back and forth from two police stations who seemed to be confused about whose jurisdiction that particular pavement fell under. However tedious, even this preparation to obtain permission for the protest made me feel empowered and confident in my own voice and purpose. Inviting people to join me in making each of our voices heard was, strangely, a more nerve-wracking task, since I had a lot of hope and doubt at the same time. I was unsure whether my classmates would come, or if we would manage to accumulate a sizable number of people for an impact to actually be made. Although one spark of dissent is enough to shake foundations, there is a strength in numbers that would be encouraging for my own participation.

Ultimately, we had a small but noticeable group spread out on the pavement at peak traffic hours. A dusty, packed road flanked by sixteen and seventeen-year-olds, the hazy cloud of pollution coating a rapidly darkening dusk sky, and cars, motorbikes, trucks, buses and auto rickshaws blaring, crawling, or cruising past. For a while my activism had been restricted to social media platforms, debates, and my general outlook on most discussions with socio-political and economic themes. But this was the first time it became something tangible. It was tangible through the attention of all the people in their cars - either driving back from work or to a party, heading to a class or a family dinner - when they saw us. It was a palpable feeling, the bitter fumes of diesel mingled with the cacophony of horns blaring over each other, and the silent power of our protest rising above it all. In all the moments that I locked eyes with these people, I felt a sense of solidarity radiate from them, which gave me the courage to keep going. These fleeting moments drowned out the din of the traffic and the harsh headlight glare, leaving just the unspoken understanding that passed between me and a random person. In each of their curious gazes was an acknowledgement of my presence, my purpose and my passion, and it made me stand taller and prouder.

What touched me most was that some people, especially of older generations, were genuinely interested in what we were doing and why. A kind, elderly gentleman stopped to speak with us, saying “the government should take responsibility for this,” and it was uplifting to share opinions on environmental and political issues with someone so different from me. There was even a group of college students walking by who stopped and joined us, enthusiastically holding up the signs and animatedly talking with me and my friends. I found strength and bravery in the support of these people. People who stood with me physically and emotionally and the people who reached out to me with their eyes, with their hands making hearts at my poster and their slight nods of compassion. I always thought I could work better alone, and didn’t need the validation of others to further my goals. But through this experience, I learned that no matter how independent or self-sufficient you are, having people around lends the courage and capacity to do more and be more as a collective.

In the end, it was the agency and power that came from being seen and heard that fueled my fire, and motivated me to stand on a thin stretch of pavement for nearly two hours, arms aching from holding the signs up high. This was truly a moment that I will never forget, a collaborative effort to create an impact, however small or unmemorable for most people, but a dent in the bubble of ignorance that we live in nonetheless. Melding our freedom of speech with squares of paper and bright crayons, we stood there, made people hear the reality of the world, made them see our future, and most importantly, made them feel humanity’s collective responsibility to right our wrongs.

Nargis Kachrumathur is 11 years old. She is in grade 7 at Riverside School in Ahmedabad, India. Nargis loves reading, soccer, badminton, basketball, waveboarding, swimming, and theater arts (especially drama).