The Youth Behind the Strikes: A Profile on Arielle Martinez-Cohen
Sitting on a small table in the middle of Santa Monica College’s Center for Media and Design courtyard, waiting in the midday Santa Monica sun, sits 17-year-old singer-songwriter, activist, and head of the Zero Hour Partnerships team, Arielle Martinez-Cohen. A local to Los Angeles, Marinez-Cohen is a senior at New West Charter School and has just finished her college applications alongside organizing the climate strike in Los Angeles, planned for Friday, March 15.
“I've always been passionate about environmental issues, and I've been lucky because my parents have helped me learn about climate change when I was growing up,” explains Martinez-Cohen regarding her stance with the environment. The young activist got involved with Zero Hour, a movement platform founded by 17-year-old Jaime Margolin, a year ago. This was after trying to get in touch with local climate change movements, only to be disappointed that most don't have many youth working in them. Zero Hour was the opposite. “It's just nice to talk to people your own age when you're organizing,” says Martinez-Cohen. “So, when I heard about them, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to get involved,’ and I had the song that I wrote, so I reached out to Jaime, the founder, and she really liked the song and we made it the official song of the movement.” The song, "Two Minutes to Midnight" is an original composition by Martinez-Cohen, and it can be found on all music platform outlets.
Zero Hour was started in 2018 before the first Youth Climate March in July, and has since gained traction as a youth-led organization with over 40 partnering organizations which include the Sierra Club, 350.org, and the Indigenous Environmental Network. Arielle Martinez-Cohen found out about Zero Hour through an interview Jaime Margolin did for CNN regarding an op-ed she sent to one of her local politicians about climate change.
After Martinez-Cohens’ transition into Zero Hour, she quickly started to organize youth marches around the city of Los Angeles. “I organized the Youth March in LA, but I also went to Washington D.C. to participate in the national march,” reflects Martinez-Cohen.
This year Zero Hour is partnering with the US Climate Strike, and Martinez-Cohen has been working closely with the Co-State Lead of the California chapter of the US Climate Strike, Austin Michael, a 19-year-old Sacramento State University political science student.
“Striking is inherently non-accessible, if you can't strike, wear green,” notes Michael on the stance for those who can't walk out due to attendance; or for those who wish to participate in “weekly strikes,” which were started by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old political activist from Sweden who is leading the frontier in Europe for its climate strikes.
“We are organizing this event in Miami over the summer, Zero Hour is, and we’re inviting Greta to the summit, so we have some connections with her and the Climate Strike in Europe,” explains Martinez-Cohen regarding their recent partnerships with youth led climate strikes around the world.
Concerning the partnerships, Martinez-Cohen states that, “We wanted to show support, you know solidarity, that were all in this together, even though we live in different countries and what not.”
The partnerships are putting together climate strikes throughout the country set for Friday, March 15. In California specifically, Austin Michael listed several cities where strikes will transpire, including, but not limited to: San Francisco, Oakland, North Bay, Berkeley, Huntington Beach, Laguna beach, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Chico, and Santa Cruz.
The one in Los Angeles will be staged at City Hall in Downtown, and although the times are still uncertain, Martinez-Cohen explains that they are most likely going to go from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. that Friday. There will be art, music, speakers, and tables where people can find out about other organizations around LA. In a press release sent out on Friday, March 8, there is an expected 100,000 youth to participate in these strikes around the country.
“People ask us ‘Why do you have to skip school? You have to learn, don't make the teachers lose money.’ And as much as I care about all that stuff, it's also important that we make a statement,” says Martinez-Cohen. “We want to make a statement. We want to share our message.”
Zero Hour states one of its core beliefs as an organization is to “focus on intersectionality,” and to accomplish that, they need to have a diverse team. “We have people of color, disabled people on our team so we can hear everyone's perspective.”
“All our national leadership is exclusively young women, which I think is really cool,” explains Michael. “In our state leads there is a lot of young women of color as well… This just totally happened organically.”
The movement does not only focus on the rising sea levels and carbon emissions; it also focuses greatly on who will be affected the most and how to protect these groups when disaster happens. “It disproportionately affects people of color, disabled people, and people of lower incomes...” states Martinez-Cohen. “If there are scarce resources or there's a natural disaster, those with lower incomes can't get out as quickly, you know? They won't be able to go and stay at a hotel. We call that a just transition.”
Zero Hour and the California Youth Climate Strike are currently open to more youth to get involved in their movement. They encourage Santa Monica College students to become apart of the organization as well. “We said 25 is the cut off for working in our core team,” explains Martinez-Cohen. “We think that because climate change will affect youth the most, we think that its integral that we’re leading the movement.”