Photos by Briana Mendez-Padilla.
The morning air intertwined with youth voices chanting, cars honking in support, and bystanders enthusiastically applauding as youth rallied through Orange Ave. on Sept. 18.
Their message was short but clear, “be part of the solution, not the pollution.” They want climate justice, now.
This group, consisting of students, teachers, and community members, gathered at Martin Luther King Jr. Park for the Long Beach Youth Climate Rally, organized by the Long Beach Green Schools Campaign (GSC) to show their support for transitioning the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) off of fossil fuels.
According to the GSC website, the district depends on fossil fuels for things such as ventilation, heating, and air conditioning, but transitioning to clean energy would save money and improve the health and performance of students and staff.
“We wanted a call to action for the school board,” Diana Michaelson, founder and current president of Long Beach GSC. “We want to see the resolution for 100% clean renewable energy passed as soon as possible, and have not seen the board reciprocate this.”
Michaelson said that while this was not a top priority for the school board last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the LBUSD transitions into a more regular school year, it should be brought back to the forefront.
“Climate injustice has been ignored for way too long, and it’s time to take serious action,” said Michaelson.
Youth power was a central theme throughout each speech. Members of GSC also spoke of their own experiences with the consequences of climate change and what inspired them to join the organization.
“Growing up I heard the rumble of cars and trucks on the 710 and 405 interchange constantly,” said Poly freshman and GSC member Ruthann Heis, reflecting on her childhood in West Long Beach. “I saw my peers and friends experience asthma attacks regularly.”
Heis remembers occasionally walking some of her classmates to the office because difficulty breathing made it hard for them to walk there on their own.
Calum Worthy, climate activist and co-founder of GSC, spoke about the immense respect he holds for youth activists and the work they have been doing. Worthy expressed his admiration for youth’s ability to understand the implications of the scientific data and their courageousness in being vocal about what needs to be done.
“Most generations want to change the world, this generation wants to save it,” said Worthy.
Fatima Iqbal-Zubair, teacher and current candidate for California Assembly in District 64, stressed the importance of holding the school district accountable.
“We are in a democracy, if we demand it, it’s [their] job to listen and work with us to act on it,” Iqbal-Zubair said. “If we care about our future, if we care about our health, the time is not tomorrow… The time is now.”
Long Beach City College teacher Megan Kaplinsky was drawn to the event by her admiration and support for student-run initiatives.
“Seeing youth involved in leadership and taking action really spoke to me,” said Kaplinsky.
She also acknowledged the importance of investing in cleaner energy as it is a way to put “our money and power where our mouth is.”
Organizers encourage students and parents to get involved in the campaign by signing the petition and connecting through their website, polygsc.com.