Students Show Out in Force for Youth Climate Strike

The sun was shining high as 19-year-old college student D Garcia made her way up the incline of 1st Street in Downtown Los Angeles (DTLA). Finally a warm day in LA, the weather conveniently fitting for a protest about humanity’s role in the increasing average global temperature. Garcia was surrounded by hundreds of demonstrators who had come out on a school day for the Youth Climate Strike (YCS), an international day of students calling for climate action.

Megaphone in hand, she shouted, “What do we want? Science! When do we want it? After peer review!” This was a nod to the body of scientific evidence on climate change in peer reviewed journals, but more specifically, Garcia said the chant was in reference to a recently released United Nations report. The report, issued in October by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said that the world needs to drastically reduce its carbon emissions by 2030 in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change. “So we’re kind of in a time crunch, and that’s why we’re here, because we need action right now, before it becomes too late.”

Hundreds of young activists gathered in front of Los Angeles City Hall Friday morning, and just after 12 p.m. began marching up the street. The crowd was filled with energetic young protesters waving home-made signs. Since the front of the packs was blocks ahead of the back at any given time, the marchers were streaming through intersections and often blocking traffic. Many drivers were honking in frustration, but others honked in show of support. In a clearly pre-planned theatrical display, one demonstrator climbed on top of his car and waved an American flag while wearing a gas mask. The march was mostly made up of young students like 14-year-old Kayla Perez. She said she was marching to spread awareness about humanity’s role in climate change. “Things that we’re doing are not helping it, and people need to know that.”

Los Angeles was one of dozens of American cities hosting events organized by the U.S. Youth Climate Strike, but student marches were happening worldwide, from Kenya to South Korea. It all started in Sweden with 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, who began weekly school strikes last August, spending her Fridays protesting outside Swedish Parliament. The LA strike was organized by a handful of young students, including 17-year-old Arielle Martinez-Cohen. A senior at New West Charter High School, she said that the day’s event was put together within two weeks. The organizers did have help from the national partners for outreach, but still had to figure out how to reach young students. “We were contacting different high schools, but that was a little bit hard because we couldn’t contact the administration and say ‘Hey we want your kids to skip school,’” said Martinez-Cohen.

They did things like reach out to school environmental clubs and promote through the social media accounts of partner organizations. They couldn’t be sure of the exact crowd size, but Martinez-Cohen said they were pleasantly surprised at the turnout. In response to critics who believe the students should be in school, she argued that the strike was also an educational experience. “You’re learning from the speakers at the rally, you’re learning how a movement works. Even though you’re not in school, you’re still learning.”

Martinez-Cohen is also a singer-songwriter, and she performed two of her original pieces during the speaking portion following the march. She started writing music at 13, but says she was never interested in writing love songs. “I wanted to write something that I cared about, and I gravitate a lot towards environmental justice.” Listening to her songs, it isn’t immediately obvious that they are rooted in activism. “I try to do them in a way that’s not cheesy… I want to make it enjoyable.”

In terms of next steps, Martinez-Cohen says they want to have more actions like Friday’s strike, and intend to start lobbying. They are going to start local, and push Los Angeles to be even more ambitious in its climate goals.