In a Whatsapp group chat, nearly thirty high school-ers from the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland are fervently preparing for a fast-approaching date — September 20. These students, most still in their teens, represent more than a dozen local, national and international organizations tied by a common purpose: striking for climate action in the U.S. capital.
Behind the scenes with the capital kids
While most youth activists across the country are able to lobby at the state or local level, students around the D.C Metropolitan area have the invaluable privilege of influencing politics at the national level.
D.C. has long acted as the intersection between community grassroots action and national policymaking. The local climate kids are taking advantage of this optimal geographic and social convergence in a big way.
One unique feature about the U.S. capital’s climate movement is it’s not just one individual or one group’s efforts; from the very first strike in March, Zero Hour, XR Rebellion, U.S. Youth Climate Strike and the Sunrise Movement rallied together to bring about change.
Over time, more organizations entered the scene. For example, later in March, seventeen-year-old Jerome Foster II, a prominent climate advocate in DC founded OneMillionOfUs, a pledge-based organization. While OneMillionOfUs’s primary goal is to “aggregate 1 million energized and civically engaged young voters in the 2020 elections,” Foster believes that it is critical for his organization to engage in the most urgent issue of today — the global climate crisis.
Earth Uprising is another national organization that has entered the scene this summer, founded by award-winning climate activist Alexandria Villasenor. Wendy Gao, the D.C. chapter lead, spoke to Climate Tracker about her group’s involvement in preparing for September 20th.
“I don’t think the public really sees [what goes on behind the scenes],” Gao said, before proceeding to name some common issues of contention during the preparation process. “We’ve had so many disagreements over things like where we want to hold the strike, if we want it to be a march or just a big strike, how long we want it to be, where we want it to start and what we want to name the strike. It’s just been so chaotic with so many different people coming together.”
Naturally, each group has a slightly different focus and mission to steer their climate action. Gao described her organization’s focus as amplification of the youth climate movement through education campaigns. “[Earth Uprising] thinks that there is a big educational gap with the public and the current climate crisis,” she said.
Meanwhile, Fridays for Future (FFF)’s focus is on consistent weekly action, Youth Climate Strike syncs national efforts with international movements, and the Sunrise Movement targets domestic politics.
But at the end of the day, collaboration is key. “Even though we’re all coming from these different organizations that have different mission statements, we’re all protesting for the same thing,” Gao said. “So we all come together to support one another. We amplify each other’s actions.”
Unlike in Congress where constituents complain about constant gridlock, the coalition effectively organize themselves into representative parties to ensure that everyone’s voices were heard.
“Working with a lot of different organizations is essential because the climate crisis is a diverse set of problems.” Foster said, “With ideas, we always do a vote on it and when the poll results are shown, we validate that decision and move forward.”
The collaboration and mutual respect among organizations is evident as most student leaders are involved or at least associated with multiple organizations.
Serena Moscarella  said, “I’m a member of Zero Hour but mainly I have been the DC leader of U.S. Youth Climate Strike since the March 15th strike. I’m also part of Friday For Future as well, and I work really closely with our Earth Uprising because a lot of youth activists are just from all these different groups and I don’t think it’s a good reason to not talk to them especially since we’re all part of a coalition now.”
Another concrete way of collaborating is amplifying each other’s campaigns. “Whenever Fridays For Future is hosting a big action event, people from Earth Uprising will go out to support and vice versa.” Gao said, “We all try to amplify each other’s actions by publicizing each other’s things on social media, so that definitely does make us stronger, just because we have a bigger following this way.”
On one matter in particular, these groups all see eye to eye: they want to demonstrate that climate change is the youth’s top priority.
Despite persisting doubt regarding the effectiveness of youth protest, recent polls and news coverage have proven otherwise: youth favor is becoming increasingly important, especially with the upcoming democratic primary.
“We have a greater ability to influence older people because we are so young.” Gao stated with confidence.
Climate Emergency declaration: a collective call
These student groups’ commitment to honoring youth voices doesn’t mean they only work with people their age, however. Alliances have been struck between student and adult groups, especially when it comes to the hefty goal of rallying for Congress to declare a climate emergency.
“We’re demanding that Congress follows through with the climate emergency resolution because although it’s not legally binding (…) we do need a statement from our government that this is an emergency and that they are going to (…) treat it as such,” Sophia Geiger, international FFF executive, said.
Geiger has liaised between FFF and XR Rebellion to organize a mass protest at D.C’s Justice Park, demanding for a climate emergency. After meeting with an XR Rebellion member at a Friday strike, Geiger decided that a collaboration between her youth organization and the more veteran protesters would bring about more concrete results. FFF subsequently co-sponsored XR Rebellion’s call for a climate emergency.
“Extinction [Rebellion] really is much more about direct action. Student strikers are about rallying and striking and being in the streets but nothing that would put us in legal trouble,” Geiger reflected. “It’s good for organizations to take different actions and then we can collaborate to achieve the goal that we want.”
Sunrise Movement is another adult-founded organization that frequently collaborates with youth partners; it even boasts of youth leaders in its ranks. Sixteen-year-old Madeleine Guimbert founded FFF DC with support from the Sunrise Movement, alongside FFF USA and Youth Climate Strike. “With their help, we founded a stronger organization with partners and sponsors,” Guimbert said.
Groups such as National Children’s Campaign—which is led by both adults and youth—and Our Children’s Trust, which typically deal with a wide variety of issues from healthcare to education, have also been doubling down on their focus on climate change and environmental justice.
“We got involved with the DC Climate Strike in order to use our resources and connections to highlight the work of all the local activists and organizers and magnify their voices.” Jonah Gottlieb, Executive Director of the National Children’s Campaign, said, “Many members of our team are based in the DC area, so helping lead the DC Climate Strike seemed like a perfect opportunity for us to support the work that’s been done by the local activists who have been striking for months.”
Bigger and better
For the September 20th strike, the coalition of organizers—Fridays for Future, Zero Hour, National Children’s Campaign, OneMillionOfUs, 350.org, DC Youth Climate Strike and others—is planning to go bigger and better than ever.
“It’s so great to be working with a large coalition of organizations because we’re all able to pool our resources and talents and unite for our one common goal of ending the climate crisis and stopping the fossil fuel industry’s destruction,” said Gottlieb.
Instead of a rally, the students are collaborating with the DC police to prepare for a march from White House to the Capitol Building which will take place from 11 am to 1 pm.
With the support of sponsors, they plan to have multiple stages for student and adult speakers.
“The Juliano plaintiffs have confirmed that they will be in DC during that week, so we’re expecting to have some of them speak at the rally in the strike,” Moscarella added.