This weekend Carrie and I watched Greta, the Hulu documentary about Greta Thunberg. The film does a good job helping viewers to understand that Greta is more than just a symbol for the climate justice movement, she is also a person – a brilliant and driven teenager.
There were two things that stood out to me about Greta that I didn’t fully comprehend before. The first is that Greta always speaks her mind. One of the things that I find so compelling about her is that she always tells it how it is and doesn’t mince words. Either with a microphone or the internet as her megaspeaker, she will, repeatedly, let the world know that a climate crisis is indisputably unfolding before our very eyes, that our elected officials have failed us repeatedly, and that people, primarily the youth of the world, are taking matters into their own hands as a result.
She is invited to speak in front of government coalitions, world leaders, and the UN and her message is consistent: “As elected officials you have failed us, you continue to fail us by doing nothing and using words and empty gestures as a shield for doing nothing, it’s not fair that your inaction will cause unfathomable suffering for my and future generations’ future, and as a result the youth movement is taking action into our own hands.” She is invited to share this message over and over again by leaders across the world. She never tempers down the rhetoric and always begins with the hard truth: “You are failing at your job. Shame on you.” The juxtaposition of everyone in attendance vigorously nodding their head in agreement with the political inaction in relation to the climate crisis is profound and jarring.
The second thing that stood out to me is just how much of a symbol Greta has become. Across the world she has inspired Climate Strikes, especially amongst the youth. Everyone looks up to her almost as the de facto leader of the climate justice movement, yet she is a teenager with her own life, family, dogs that she adores, and personal issues that make her uniquely her. It’s hard to decouple the symbol from the individual. Simply by being who she is – an incredibly driven and passionate person who does her own thing to try to get elected officials to take action – she has become a global symbol for hope and change. That’s a herculean amount of pressure and responsibility for a teenager to assume. She never asked for it, yet she bears it with a level of grace, seriousness and maturity that would crush most every human being.
It’s interesting to think about what it means for a person to become a symbol, especially at a global scale. When that happens, the image of their face or the sound of their voice invokes a certain emotion, a story, a spark of inspiration. And that’s exactly what has happened with Greta. She never asked for it, but it happened. I recently purchased a print of Greta because she has become an important symbol to me. A constant reminder to speak truth to power, to always tell it how it is, to relentlessly fight for the future, and the limitless possibility and necessity of changing the world together.