“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” – Senator Robert F. Kennedy
In this case, it is young school girls, and millions more youth like them, who are standing up for an ideal to sweep down the mightiest walls of resistance to focus the world’s attention on the immediate need to address an impending climate catastrophe, because it is their future that is most at risk. Students Are Preparing for the First Major U.S. Climate Strike Next Month:
Alexandria Villasenor doesn’t remember a world without climate change. When she was eight, Folsom Lake, the reservoir practically in her backyard in Davis, dried up amidst California’s epic drought. She peered at the dead fish on its former shores and felt her anxiety about the future start to grow.
The 13 year old has since moved to New York, but she was back visiting friends and family in Davis recently when the Camp Fire struck 90 miles to the north. Smoke wafted over Northern California, creating the most toxic air on the planet. Fearing for her health, Villasenor left. And in that moment, she knew she couldn’t idly accept a future of ever-worsening drought, fires, and weather whiplash turning her home state into a climate change-fueled wasteland.
Villasenor can’t yet vote intransigent politicians out of office or run herself. But she found inspiration in Greta Thunberg, the 15 year old Swedish climate activist who began striking each Friday in the run up to Sweden’s September 2018 elections to protest inaction on climate change and who has inspired tens of thousands of youths across Europe to follow suit. Eight weeks ago, Villasenor started walking to the United Nations in her own Friday climate strike, a tradition that continued this Friday in the face of polar vortex-fueled cold. Now, she’s calling for a nationwide school strike on March 15 to talk about our future and send a message to adults to get their act together at this pivotal moment in history.
Like Thunberg, Villansenor speaks in blunt terms.
“If we’re not going to have a future, then school won’t matter any more,” Villasenor told Earther, explaining why she hopes students across the country will take to the streets.
Villasenor’s path to activism is both unique and all too common for her generation, which is growing up in a time where climate change’s impacts are increasing apparent and time is running out to radically transform the world’s economy to confront the crisis. Since Thunberg began striking in Sweden last August, huge numbers of students have taken up the cause under the banner of #fridaysforfuture as the movement has spread across social media.
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Yet in the U.S., despite its huge role in causing climate change, has seen just a smattering of strikers across the country since Villasenor began her protest at the U.N. She pointed to rigid U.S. values and fear of breaking from them as some reasons the student strike movement has yet to catch on here. But in her view, now is the time for rule breaking.
“We now have to start being more direct. We’re not going to get anything done if we keep going by the rules,” she said.
By setting a firm date of March 15, Villasenor said she hopes to galvanize a bigger, sustained movement. Student strikers in Australia and Europe have said they’ll be taking to the streets in solidarity, and Uganda and Thailand strikers are considering action as well. The organizing is being done by a loose organization of students who check in on regular calls as well as Twitter DMs and Facebook Messenger. But Villansenor said other climate activism groups are planning to show their support with direct actions, including 350, Extinction Rebellion, and the Sunrise Movement.
The theme will be coming together collectively to reimagining our future and how to get there.
“If everyone gets involved, then more ideas can circulate around,” Villansenor said. “It will have to be a group project of the whole world.”
Villasenor is breaking through to the mainstream media. This weekend the Washington Post published a lengthy profile piece on her. How a 7th-grader’s strike against climate change exploded into a movement (excerpts):
On the ninth Friday of her strike, 13-year-old Alexandria Villasenor wakes to a dozen emails, scores of Twitter notifications, and good news from the other side of the planet: Students in China want to join her movement.
Every week since December, the seventh-grader has made a pilgrimage to the United Nations Headquarters demanding action on climate change. She is one of a cadre of young, fierce and mostly female activists behind the School Strikes 4 Climate movement. On March 15, with the support of some of the world’s biggest environmental groups, tens of thousands of kids in at least two dozen countries and nearly 30 U.S. states plan to skip school to protest.
Their demands are uncompromising: Nations must commit to cutting fossil-fuel emissions in half in the next 10 years to avoid catastrophic global warming.
And their message is firm: Kids are done waiting for adults to save their world.
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“My generation is really upset.” The deal struck at COP24, the U.N. climate meeting in December, was insufficient, she says. “We’re not going to let them . . . hand us down a broken planet.”
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In December she watched as international negotiators met in Poland to carve out a plan for curbing carbon emissions. A recent U.N. report found that humanity has until 2030 — the year Alexandria turns 24 — to achieve “rapid and far-reaching” transformation of society if we wish to avoid the dire environmental consequences of warming 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. Yet the agreement that was ultimately reached fell far short of what scientists say is urgently needed.
In the midst of all this, Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old from Sweden, took the podium.
“You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes,” the girl proclaimed to a room full of stunned adults. “We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not.”
Recalling that speech, Alexandria’s eyes light up. “She just put them in their place,” Alexandria says. “That was extremely satisfying.”
Alexandria searched Greta’s name online and found stories about the Swedish girl’s climate strike in front of her country’s parliament building, then in its fourth month. Greta said she had been inspired by student activists from Parkland, Fla., who said they would not go back to school until gun-control legislation was passed. “I am too young to vote and to lobby,” she told The Washington Post this week. “But I can sit down with a sign and make my voice heard.”
Alexandria knew what she needed to do.
She made her first pilgrimage to the United Nations Headquarters on Dec. 14. The next week she was back — with an umbrella. She has endured relentless rain and brutal wind off the East River (weeks three and four). She has braved the polar vortex that sent temperatures plummeting to 10 degrees (week eight).
Few of the New Yorkers bustling by ever stop to talk to her. And in her first eight weeks of striking, no one offered to join.
“But I stay motivated,” she says. “Of course. It’s my future on the line.”
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[She] stays up all night talking to Thunberg and other kids from Australia, Uganda, the U.K. They are kindred spirits, Internet-savvy teenage girls who can recite the results of the latest U.N. climate report and take pride in seeing through what Alexandria calls “the veil of money and B.S.” that seems to stall so many adults.
Together, they debate strategy and discuss going vegan. On their strike days, they trade tweets littered with heart emoji and cheer as the walkouts expand.
Adults who underestimate the movement do so at their own peril. Since late last year, strikes in European cities have regularly drawn tens of thousands of participants. More than 15,000 people showed up for a strike in Australia— even after their prime minister urged them to be “less activist.”
When a Belgian environment minister suggested that the growing protests were a “setup” this month, she was forced to resign. The following day, 20,000 kids were back in the streets of Brussels.
That day, Alexandria shared an image of a Dutch protest on Twitter, alongside the declaration, “It’s coming to America. You haven’t seen anything yet.”
Alexandria has joined forces with Haven Coleman, a 12-year-old striker from Colorado, and Isra Hirsi, the 15-year-old daughter of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), to organize the U.S. movement.
Cue the Fox News aka Trump TV freakout, and the vile hatred from the conservative media entertainment complex that exists to defend the wealthy plutocrats of the New Gilded Age. For example:
The comments online don’t help. For all the strangers on the Internet who call Alexandria an inspiration, there are still people who tweet “YOU’RE A MORON” and “Go back to school!” and threaten to “come down there and teach you a real lesson about climate change.”
Offers of support began streaming in almost faster than the girls could respond. The executive director of Greenpeace agreed to hand the group’s social media accounts over to students for the day of the strike. The New York chapter of the Sunrise Movement, the grass-roots group advocating for the Green New Deal, offered to handle outreach for March 15. Prominent climate researchers including Michael Mann, Kathrine Hayhoe and Peter Kalmus followed the girls on Twitter and began to organize an open letter of support from scientists. Alexandria and her mother have been invited to attend a special briefing next week on the U.N. Climate Summit being held later this year.
“These kids go straight to the top, and the adults listen,” Hogue says.
“That’s because they see the opportunity of the strikes and what it will do as good as the next person,” Alexandria replies. “They see it.”
Still, even the 13-year-old is stunned by the momentum of the movement, which seems to have taken on a life of its own. Sometimes all she can do is watch the emails roll in and think, “Whoa. I did that.”
This is a grassroots movement organized on social media. I have posted the event to the Political Calendar:
Friday, March 15: Youth Global Climate Strike. #SCHOOLSHUTDOWN #ClimateStrike in AMERICA on Friday, March 15th 2019! We’ll be joined by @Strike4Youth & @Fridays4future as YOUTH rise up and demand worldwide #ClimateAction! Youth from across the US are striking on March 15th to show our legislators that we need a #GreenNewDeal! Interested in attending a school strike in your area? Go to http://youthclimatestrikeus.org/strikes to see if your state is on the map! If it isn’t, email us at email@example.com!