Story and photos by Susan Landry
Jack Mccourt, age 16, sums up his reflections on climate change in two words — “frustrating and depressing.” Still, the student activist says he is hopeful after seeing the turnout at Santa Cruz’s Global Climate Strike kickoff event.
“I can’t help but smile and feel happy about what we’re seeing today and the fact that people do want change,” said Mccourt.
Hundreds of protesters gathered for the event at the Louden Nelson Community Center last Friday, which featured live music, a youth open-mic, catered vegan dishes, and even a “Compassionate Listening and Support” panel, where attendees could share their feelings or distress about climate change.
“It’s a really positive atmosphere,” said 25-year-old attendee Kathleen Deck, adding, “(Climate change) is affecting our futures. There’s a lot of kids here today and if we want to change the world for them, these types of events are a necessity.”
Friday’s event occurred in solidarity with the Global Climate Strike, where millions of people took to the streets to demand further action on climate change ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit.
The event in Santa Cruz was the first of eight days of action planned there this week, all leading up to “Big Strike Day” this Friday, Sept. 27, where students across the county are expected to walk out of school in protest before converging for a march in Downtown Santa Cruz.
Mccourt is helping to organize the strike at his school, San Lorenzo Valley High, where he says he was given detention for passing out fliers, and now is being threatened with suspension if he joins the walk-outs.
Laurie Bruton, superintendent of San Lorenzo Valley School Unified School District, says she does not believe students will be suspended for protesting, but rather given unexcused absences.
“We encourage our students to be aware of social and political issues and have a voice, learn more about it and make a stand on things, of course. But at the same time, we can’t condone them being out of school unsupervised,” said Bruton, who adds that the walk-outs pose a safety risk for students.
Mccourt says that whatever the consequences may be, joining the strike is “100 percent worth it,” adding, “We’re the generation that really has to live with climate change, so it’s our natural instinct to try and stop it and stop ourselves from getting killed, literally.”
While Mccourt is inspired by his generation’s activism, he wants older generations to step up, too.
“I hear people saying all the time, ‘Oh, your generation makes me feel so hopeful,’ says Mccourt, “It’s like, why won’t you do something? Why won’t you support your kids striking and walking out of school?”
This sentiment was echoed by many in attendance, including Shirene Misif, who says she hopes that young voices coming together will help to, “influence the older generations and people in Congress who hold the power and need to have a change of perspective on climate change.”
Santa Cruz’s week of climate action is already garnering significant multi-generational support. People of all ages attended the Kick-Off, including 75-year-old event organizer and retired teacher Pauline Seales, who now works with Santa Cruz Climate Action Network.
“You only need a small, dedicated percentage of the population to make a real difference,” says Seales, adding that the threat of devastating consequences for future generations inspired her to get involved. “I couldn’t live with not trying.”
At the event, Seales was at the SCCAN table to help drum up support for a petition aimed at achieving a zero-carbon by 2030 goal through things like plastic reduction and tougher vehicle emissions standards. The network primarily focuses its efforts on local legislation because, “It seemed to have a better chance of working,” said Seales with a laugh.
SCCAN joined forces with several environmental groups including the Sunrise Movement, Extinction Rebellion, and the Democratic Socialists of America to organize the events.
The Kick-Off, much like the organizers themselves, represented an array of perspectives on what to do about climate change. Calls to action ranged from eating less meat to a complete overhaul of capitalism as we know it.
“For me, it’s eco-socialism or bust,” said event organizer Martabel Wasserman of the Democratic Socialists of America’s Eco-Socialist Working Group, adding, ““Eco-socialism is the idea that everyone’s basic needs should be met … Not only do we want to cap greenhouse gases, but we want everyone to have food, shelter, education, etc. and move people away from this idea of green capitalism.”
Santa Cruz City Council member Chris Khron, who spoke at the event, called for banning single-use plastics, restoring natural areas, and increased city funding for things like parks and bike lanes.
Organizers say that building bridges and supporting a diversity of opinions is crucial to a successful week of events, which will culminate in Big Strike Day this Friday. Students at UCSC and Cabrillo College as well as high schools and middle schools in the area are being urged to walk out and participate in a march that will call attention to the urgent matter of climate change. A complete schedule can be found here.
“When we formed the coalition we all acknowledged that none of us know the answer. We have to stay humble and try and work together as best we can,” said Wasserman.
For more information about the upcoming Big Strike Day, visit scruzclimate.org.
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