Thousands of students and activists walked out of class and onto the streets Friday, joining over four million people worldwide in a strike calling for action on climate change.
Organizers said 5,000 to 8,000 people attended the Downtown Los Angeles protest, which started in Pershing Square and ended at the Los Angeles City Hall steps. Notable speakers included actress Jane Fonda, City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield and Mayor Eric Garcetti.
“We were hoodwinked by the fossil fuel industry into believing the Earth was ours to endlessly exploit,” Fonda said. “Shame on them, and shame on the politicians they bought off.”
The crowd chanted, “Climate change is not a lie, please don’t let our planet die,” as protesters ran and weaved between cars brought to a standstill by the march. A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Department said there were no reported arrests or complaints.
The protesters, many of them middle and high school students, demanded action to curb the environmental damage caused by climate change. They also denounced people who deny the decades of scientific evidence behind climate change, and condemned the mistreatment of appropriated indigenous lands in the United States.
The movement was inspired in part by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who crossed the Atlantic by sailboat in August to attend a United Nations climate summit in New York. Thunberg led the New York branch of the strike, which she said on Twitter drew about 250,000 people.
Mercy Worth, a 10th grade student at Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts, walked out of her class with dozens of her classmates to participate in the strike. Worth said the youth voice is critical to combating climate change, but she felt it was being dismissed by the adults.
“We’re going to be the ones living in this world long after anyone in power is out of the picture,” Worth said.
Tessa Crockett, an 11th grade student at the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, attended the protest with Lila Doliner, an 11th grade student at Geffen Academy at UCLA. Crockett said most students who attended the protest were sacrificing their grades, because the Los Angeles Unified School District did not support the protest. She said she wished her school would be more active in teaching climate issues – a sentiment echoed by Doliner.
“We’re kind of teaching ourselves and learning from the news,” Crockett said. “It’s messed up that we’re not informed about our own world and what’s going on.”
A spokesperson for LA Unified said in an email statement that the district held a “walk-in day” in lieu of the strike, to help students advocate for their views on climate change while still attending school. The spokesperson declined to comment on whether disciplinary actions will be taken on students and faculty who participated.
Many college students, researchers and professors also joined in the strikes.
George Dutton, a professor of Vietnamese history at UCLA, said he took the subway with his daughter to the downtown strike. Dutton denounced the Trump administration’s attempts to undermine California’s environmental policies, such as its revoking of the waiver that allows California to set tougher automobile emissions standards than those at the federal level. California and 22 other states sued the Trump administration on Friday to stop the revocation.
“I guess the only thing that gives me hope is the fact that a lot of the Trump administration’s decisions are being tied up in courts,” Dutton said.
Naomi Goldenson, a postdoctoral scholar at the UCLA Center for Climate Science, usually researches precipitation patterns in the west and around the world, and joined the strike downtown to show her support. Goldenson said because California is a leader in environmental policies, the University of California should take action to reflect that.
Goldenson said recent decisions made by the UC are encouraging, however. The UC Regents Committee on Investments announced Tuesday it is selling the last $150 million of its fossil fuel investments from the UC’s $83.4 billion pension and endowment funds because it posed a financial risk. Jagdeep Singh Bachher, chief investment officer for the Regents, also wrote in the Los Angeles Times that alternative energy sources are not only cleaner, but also more profitable.
“We would like to see more of like a moral statement in support of that rather than just the investment argument, but we’ll take it,” Goldenson said. “It’s a good development.”
Despite calls to switch to clean renewable energy, protesters struggled to exclude fossil fuels from the march completely. A truck carrying a display panel on its side and three gasoline generators to power it headed the march. The environmental organization Greenpeace also brought a full-size pickup truck to carry their protest materials and signs.
Meagan Evans, a canvasser for Greenpeace and a recent graduate of Troy University, blamed the fossil fuel industry for the apparent irony.
“The fossil fuel industry is kind of the only option. It’s not the consumer’s fault that this is what we have,” Evans said. “We have to use what we have at this point so we can find an option that is not only affordable, but also practical for everyone.”
Those alternatives may soon be a more common sight. Blumenfield, who represents the San Fernando Valley area, proposed a measure in August 2018 to limit the availability of plastic utensils at restaurants in Los Angeles. He said the city council is also working to ban Styrofoam products, as San Francisco did in 2016, and expects the rest of the country to follow.
“Great ideas start at LA, they infect California, and pretty soon the winds blow from the west to the east and the entire country is on board,” Blumenfield said.