North Carolina

Traffic, crowds, schools: What to know about Greta Thunberg’s appearance in Charlotte

Greta Thunberg, perhaps the world’s most famous teen environmental activist, will be in uptown Charlotte Friday afternoon, joining local students and others in a climate strike.

Uptown Charlotte drivers and workers could see some bottlenecks on streets and sidewalks Friday afternoon as a large crowd gathers to hear Thunberg and others speak. It’s unclear whether participants will stay in one area, about a block away from Marshall Park, or march along streets.

The teen-led climate demonstration is scheduled for noon to 2 p.m. at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center at 600 E. Fourth St. In Charlotte and around the world, leaders of these student-led climate strikes — some called “Fridays for Future” — have been, for nearly a year, calling for more civic and government action on climate change.

One climate strike held in Charlotte on Sept. 20 drew hundreds of teenagers and adults outside the Government Center. Organizers of Friday’s gathering expect Thunberg’s planned appearance will easily double the crowd size.

Charlotte transportation officials have announced no lane closures as a result of Thunberg’s appearance but said their crews are ready to do so if the crowd size warrants.

How many people will attend?

Organizers say up to 1,000 people could attend.

Local students Mary Ellis Stevens, Kate Harrison and Lucia Paulsen, are co-leading the protest.

Charlotte City Council member Dimple Ajmera also is expected to address the crowd. Ajmera, according to her City Council bio online “is widely known for chairing the Environment Committee and helping Charlotte become a global leader in sustainability with bipartisan support.”

Will work and traffic be impacted?

The large crowd could impact uptown traffic late Friday morning into the afternoon, especially around the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center. Public transportation, such as the light rail and CATS buses, may also be busier than normal.

Charlotte Department of Transportation officials say they are aware of Thunberg’s planned appearance. Crews from CDOT’s special events section are prepared to block lanes if needed, CDOT spokeswoman Scierra Bratton said.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police will manage pedestrian traffic, Bratton said. No lane closures had been announced as of Thursday afternoon.

Who is Greta Thunberg?

Thunberg, who is from Sweden, describes herself on Twitter, where she has amassed 2.9 million followers, as a “16-year-old climate and environmental activist with Asperger’s.”

Climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks after a climate change march in Los Angeles, on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. Ringo H.W. Chiu AP

She was nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for inspiring millions across the world to take to the streets for climate change.

The Swede gained international attention with her emotional speech at the United Nations on September 23, 2019, about climate change inaction.

How dare you,” she said, according to a video of her remarks distributed by UNTV via The Associated Press. “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”

Her speech prompted a response from President Donald Trump.

“She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future,” Trump tweeted. “So nice to see!”

CBS News reported that Thunberg “appeared to troll him right back” when she temporarily added to her own Twitter bio Trump’s quote and tagged herself as “a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future.”

Why Charlotte?

Thunberg confirmed on Twitter that she will join Friday’s planned climate strike in Charlotte, but she hasn’t said what prompted her to attend this teen-led gathering out of the many others occurring worldwide this year. She has made other public appearances to talk about climate change in the U.S.

On Facebook Monday, she posted: “Since Friday afternoon I’ve been traveling east through the beautiful southern states in the USA to get to the east coast and hopefully find a transport to COP25 in Madrid,” referring to the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference.

Charlotte could be regarded as an appropriate stop.

The September climate change protest outside the Government Center less than two months ago drew widespread attention. Hundreds of Charlotte area youth skipped school and work that day to stage a “die-in” over what they called government inaction on climate change.

And Duke Energy, the nation’s largest power producer, is headquartered in uptown Charlotte. Protesters have gathered outside the company’s headquarters over the years to protest various environmental issues, such as a Duke Energy coal ash spill five years ago into the Dan River in Eden, N.C.

Myers Park High student Mary Ellis Stevens, 14, at one of her Friday “climate strikes” outside the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center. Courtesy of Mary Ellis Stevens

What are schools doing?

For Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students who wish to skip class and join Thunberg at Friday’s climate strike, there will be no district-wide exemption for missing class. According the district, its usual attendance policy will remain in place.

CMS typically treats a student’s missing classes to attend a community protest as an unexcused absence. But principals may approve community events as educational opportunities and authorize an excused absence.

Students in CMS must be present for at least half the day to be considered in attendance. For high school students, 11 unexcused absences from classes that met all year, or six unexcused absences for classes that meet one semester, will result in an F on the student’s record.

Annie Ma contributed.

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Joe Marusak has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1989 covering the people, municipalities and major news events of the region, and was a news bureau editor for the paper. He currently reports on breaking news.