Young protestors and environmental activists gathered en masse for a 24-hour climate strike to advocate for the climate and demand, on a local and national level, a divestment from fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions.
Youth Climate Strike LA (YCSLA), a group of young organizers in high school and college, organized and led the demonstration that ran from 10 a.m. Sept. 24 in Pershing Square and ended at 10 a.m. Sept. 25 in City Hall Park on North Main Street.
Other LA County climate justice organizations and groups, like Sunrise Movement LA (SMLA) and International Indigenous Youth Council LA (IIYCLA), joined the strike and showed their support through attendance, social media posts and speeches throughout the 24-hour period.
Jesus Villalaba Gastelum, one of the first members of YCSLA, said the group started in 2019 after a young, Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg, gave a call to action to youth worldwide for protests demanding more action from governments on climate change.
Villalaba Gastelum said that since 2019, YCSLA’s approach to climate justice has grown from bringing awareness to climate change in a “polite, yet firm,” way to a more “people-focused” way.
“It’s become more about addressing the intersection of climate change on different issues,” he said. “Climate change is affecting a majority of Black and brown countries (and communities). This is what we’re trying to focus on.”
The initial goal of YCSLA, Villalaba Gastelum said, was to “think global and act local,” and the direction the group has grown since 2019 is positive. “We’ve taken a primarily Eurocentric global climate strike and shifted it to focus on Indigenous people who were already doing this work (in LA),” he said.
Original members of YCSLA began to step away for various reasons, according to Villalaba Gastelum, who took time away for health issues. Other LA County youth began to fill in administrative organizer roles.
Chandini Brennan Agarwal, communications and outreach lead with YCSLA, “bloomed” and slowly became comfortable role filling a leadership role, after she began to organize with the group, according to Villalaba Gastelum.
“This strike is really about showing the power that we hold as a movement and a community,” Brennan Agarwal said about the 24-hour demonstration, which she emphasized was a “coalition event.” “We’re here as an organization of youth.
“We’re fighting for freedom for fossil fuels, and everyone here is fighting for the cause,” Brennan Agarwal said. YCSLA, organizations and activists in attendance are about spreading awareness and taking action for “intersectional climate activism. We’re showing up for Black Lives Matter and International Indigenous Youth Council LA; we’re about fighting for environmental justice,” she said.
YCSLA is focused on highlighting “environmental racism,” which, Brennan Agarwal says, includes oil drilling and how people of color are affected by it. A recent motion from the LA County Board of Supervisors, as well as other studies on the subject, substantiates claims made by Brennan Agarwal and other LA climate activists about people of color and their communities being disproportionately affected by oil and gas development.
The mid-September motion, presented by Supervisors Holly Mitchell and Sheila Kuehl, stated, “Tens of thousands of county residents live in close proximity to an oil well, and nearly 73% of those residents are people of color.”
Moreover, the motion cites a scientific journal, Environmental Research, which published a study in June saying that residents of these communities, who live near active and inactive oil drilling sites, experience “a significant decrease in lung and pulmonary function.”
Demands for the YCSLA demonstration furthered the message of divesting from fossil fuels and advocating for people of color from disproportionately affected neighborhoods and the future of the nation.
A YCSLA document titled “24 hour Details, Demands, Action Items” urgently calls on Gov. Gavin Newsom to “stop approving oil and gas permits and drop existing oil and gas production” and implement a 2,500-foot buffer zone between communities and oil drilling sites.
The document demands a federal $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill passes, which has yet to be finalized by Congress. The bill will outline government spending for the next 10 years and covers a variety of social programs and combats climate change as a part of the Green New Deal and President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda.
Though congressional legislators debate and disagree on the $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill, its phrasing, its large cost and implementation, Villalba Gastelum said the United States does not worry about how much money it spends on wars. Instead, it is concerned about funding for its residents, its future and the infrastructure.
Josiah Edwards, spokesperson for Sunrise Movement LA and emcee for the speeches during the demonstration, said he hopes attendees and those who hear about the 24-hour demonstration take away that “young people are here, and we’re here to stay.”
Edwards firmly explained the 24-hour strike as an action among many others for climate justice and as a rebirth of the youth climate movement in Los Angeles, the United States and worldwide.
“We’re not going to give up our futures to undemocratic politicians who do not listen to their constituents or fossil fuel corporations who continue to put us at risk, especially Black, brown and Indigenous folks on the front lines of the climate crisis. Our futures matter,” he said.
Edwards said Sunrise Movement LA will launch a local campaign, Environmental Justice for Los Angeles, that will tackle environmental issues centered around the communities of Watts and Vista Hermosa, which are experiencing “environmental racism” and gentrification.
The 24-hour program for the demonstration primarily consisted of speeches; relevant climate education and lectures; arts and crafts; and a DJ appearance from celebrities Lil Dicky, Benny Blanco and Cashmere Cat.
Councilmember Mike Bonin also made an appearance and gave a speech after a passionate and warm welcome by Edwards.
Bonin started by giving his thanks to all participants of the demonstration for their action and message regarding climate change. “I wanted to stand here tonight, which was and is sacred tribal land, to say thank you to those of you doing the sacred work to save this planet for your generation and generations to come after,” he said.
Kenneth Mejia, candidate for the LA city controller for 2022, followed Bonin’s speech with his own. Mejia’s campaign for election in 2022 focuses on transparency of Los Angeles’ finances and advocacy for working-class peoples in LA. “How amazing would it be for a progressive to hold the powerful accountable,” Mejia said about the possibility of getting elected.
“What we’re trying to do,” Mejia said about running for LA city controller, “is put the city’s finances on blast for all of you to see because, although we’re not the policymakers, we can put this information out there so that (activists and organizations) can lobby their councilmembers and the mayor so they can enact that change.”
The demonstration, focused primarily on climate policy action for future generations of Angelenos and youth worldwide, brought gatherers together, around 8 p.m., to observe a chalk-drawn globe, outlined with lit candles for a community vigil.
As people gathered around the drawing, Edwards said, “This is our opportunity to recognize the pain and suffering inflicted upon each other as a global community. As a community of human beings, bonded with one another in our pain, suffering, love, joy and anger. What we’re going to do is take this moment to experience that together.”
The crowd and the speaker fell silent, and as a collective, those attending hovered, gazing at a bright, candle-lit drawing of the globe together.