“We’re gonna strike ‘cause our waters are rising
We’re gonna strike ‘cause our people are dying
We’re gonna strike for life and everything we love
We’re gonna strike for you. Will you strike for us?”
On Friday, these words will echo in cities across the world as young people strike to fight climate change.
When you ask someone why they fight for climate change, the answer is never the same — for biodiversity, for our earth, for our communities, for clean air, for a just transition. But whenever you ask a youth organizer why they fight for climate change, you’ll get a similar response: We are fighting for our lives.
Over the past three months, I have worked with a myriad of people, organizations and communities, each one adding a new depth to why I fight and what climate action means to me. But at the end of the day, I fight for my little brother and the millions of other children who are born into a crisis. Their existence is a swirl of climate anxiety and trauma as they question whether they will be able to live a full life.
On Sept. 20, the Berkeley community, in solidarity with the entire world, will be standing together to say that we have had enough. We have had enough of politicians discounting science and failing to pass effective legislation. We have had enough of our institutions, including our very own UC system, directly funding unsustainable partnerships. We have had enough of the systemic oppression that causes disproportionate environmental and health hazards in our communities. We have had enough of the fossil fuel industry using our bodies and homes as dumping grounds. We have had enough of the archaic, colonizer environmentalism that does not center our future generations and most vulnerable communities. We need a paradigm shift in how we tackle this global crisis, and our generation will be the swift hand that redirects this movement down the path it needs to go.
We are at a pivotal crossroads in this crisis. On Monday, the United Nations will hold a Climate Action Summit in New York to set and execute plans to address the global climate emergency. Time and time again global leaders have met to discuss this topic, starting with the 1979 First World Climate Conference, and yet all we have seen is an increase in our global carbon emissions by 90 percent since 1970.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we have approximately 12 years to make drastic changes to limit the global climate catastrophe. As a climate organizer, that countdown is engraved into my very soul. I see that countdown in my dreams, in my classes, in my actions, in my schoolwork, in my job, everywhere, every day. That ticking clock means my brother will not even reach his 30s before this crisis is catastrophic.
How can we be faced with anxiety and trauma like this and not be angry? Why should children have to fight, from birth, for their right to live? Although youth organizers will continue to inspire and amaze me, there should never be a circumstance in which 10-year-olds are begging politicians, scientists and other figureheads for their very lives. Children should not have to watch someone idolized from their perspective look down on them and say the fossil fuel industry is more important than their right to breathe, their right to have a childhood, their right to live.
So yes, I am a youth organizer and I am angry as hell. And to my fellow organizers, we have every right to be. For too long we have been “too young,” “too inexperienced,” “unrealistic,” “too emotional.” But somehow, despite being sidelined for all of these years, we have galvanized our generation into action in the matter of mere months as opposed to the 40 years the previous generation has had. It all starts with our communities and continues to ripple out until we join in arms with others to create systemic change.
It is exactly these things we are shamed for — our youth, our vision and our passion — that have separated us from the norm and enacted such change. Keep building your coalitions, keep starting those clubs, keep arguing with adults, and most importantly realize your capacity. This shift in our lives is a marathon, so do not burn out by sprinting. We need all of you here and we are not going to stop any time soon.
And to the generation that caused this crisis, all I have to say is step aside. Step aside and let us control the narrative. Step aside and let us work together toward collective liberation. Step aside and let us regain autonomy over our lives. We’re gonna strike ‘cause our waters are rising. We’re gonna strike because our people are dying. We’re gonna strike for life and everything we love. We’re gonna strike for you, so will you strike for us?
Dante Gonzales is a senior studying society and environment and conservation and resource studies, and he is one of the UC system’s 2019 Bonnie Reiss Carbon Neutrality Initiative student engagement fellows.