Protesting For Change
By Kathryn Gioiosa & Carol Hymowitz
How have protests and movements evolved and stayed the same over decades? We discuss our experiences at a women’s march and climate strike and how generations are connected in fighting for social justice.
Protesting for Climate Justice
by Kathryn Gioiosa
Over the summer of 2019, I studied biodiversity and sustainability in Costa Rica. I had always known that climate change was a threat we were all facing but never spent time learning more or getting involved. After my trip abroad, I felt as if I needed to do something with the knowledge I’ve learned to make a difference.
In September, a video of Greta Thunberg speaking at the United Nations went viral. Climate strikes arose all across the world and, on social media, a lot of my feed turned into upcoming protests and strikes. However, there was one post for a strike on September 20, 2019 that kept being sent around. Suddenly, students were going to be excused from school to go and that sealed the decision that my friends and I were going to attend.
Getting off the train and walking up the stairs of the City Hall Subway station, I could hear the chants of people gathering together. Looking at the crowd, it was the first time I’ve seen so many people my age together for a common cause. People were carrying signs demanding climate justice with messages like, “The sea levels are rising and so are we.” We shouted, “What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now! If we don’t get it? Shut it down!” Hundreds of thousands of young people were in the city and there were millions more around the world fueling the global movement we see today.
That strike was the first time I’d ever stood up for my own future. Now, almost two years later, I’ve been working on campaigns to pass climate legislation and elect climate champions into office. I went from someone who was introverted and barely spoke in class to someone who was able to speak at rallies with hundreds of people. My story isn’t unique; I know dozens of other youth who’ve been mobilized because of this strike and are now leaders in their communities and advocates for a better future.
The demands are still there. In New York, the state hasn’t passed climate legislation since the landmark “Climate Act” in 2019, and our city, state and federal representatives are still failing us. Fossil fuel companies and corporations have continued to ravage communities disproportionately and only care about the money in their own pockets. The original demands of ending fossil fuel infrastructure, accountability and an equitable recovery still aren’t met. I’m still organizing for my future, the future of generations after me and for the land of my ancestors.
Protesting for Women’s Equality
by Carol Hymowitz
I was a recent college graduate and working as a secretary at a publishing company when I joined a demonstration in New York City that changed my life. I’d been at many demonstrations before, calling for an end to the war in Vietnam and racial justice for Black Americans. But the Women’s Strike for Equality protest, on August 26, 1970, was the first time I’d marched for my own rights.
The crowd was so large I couldn’t find the friends I’d planned to meet, yet I didn’t feel alone. “Join us,” said one woman, who linked my arm with hers when I fell in line with others on Fifth Avenue and 59th Street. A woman behind me had a sign that read, “Don’t cook dinner tonight. Starve a rat,” and another group carried a banner with the words, “Repent, Male Chauvinists, Your World is Coming to an End.”
In the weeks leading up to the march, I’d begun to question why I could only apply for jobs listed as “women wanted” openings, why my career choices were so limited and salary so low. The women’s liberation movement was in its infancy, and my friends and I were only first starting to recognize how, despite our college degrees and middle-class privileges, we didn’t have equal rights or choices. At the time, virtually all institutions—government, business, unions, universities, medicine, the law and the arts—were male-dominated establishments. Married women couldn’t get a credit card in their own name and were expected to handle all the housework and childcare, even when they worked outside their homes.
When we reached 50th Street, a group of men on the sidewalk outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral, shouted, “bras-less traitors,” as we passed. “Sisterhood is powerful,” we shouted in response, and the marchers behind us took up that chant. I subsequently learned that more than 10,000 women took part in the demonstration in New York and thousands more in Washington, D.C., Boston, Miami, Los Angeles and other cities. The protest eventually led me to leave the secretarial pool for graduate school and a job as a newspaper reporter, where I wrote about the women’s movement.
Five decades later, so much has changed. Women are university presidents, Air Force pilots, poet laureates and Olympic soccer stars, and identify themselves as “she” or “they” or as single mothers by choice or childless by choice.
Yet gender equality hasn’t yet been achieved. The organizers of the 1970 Women’s Strike for Equality had three goals: equal opportunity in employment and educations; free abortion on demand; and the establishment of 24/7 childcare centers. None of those goals have been reached and, in some cases, gains that were made are being curtailed and threatened.
So I’m still marching. And I’m as excited listening to a new generation of women leaders voice their agenda and hopes as I was parading down Fifth Avenue in my first women’s march.
After meeting at Girls Write Now in the fall of 2020, we realized that despite our different ages—and the big age span between us—we’re both committed to social and political change. We’ve both been shaped by protests we’ve joined and wanted to detail those experiences in writing.
Kathryn Gioiosa is a climate justice activist and organizer from Forest Hills, Queens. She is an Our Climate Fellow who advocates for equitable climate policies in New York. She enjoys writing journalistic pieces and essays but has been exploring personal essays while incorporating themes from her social justice activism. In her free time, Kathryn enjoys biking and playing the piano.