Jesus is an undoc student based in California. He's spent more than a year and a half engaging in migrant rights and is against the camps.
Climate Strikers March on DTLA.
Activism and Me
Before continuing with the article, it'd be a good idea for you to be acquainted with my work. This way you'll be able to grasp the atmospheres and experiences I've had in a more personal way. I can't expect you to put yourself in my shoes when you don't know what size I am if that's the expression. :)
In February 2019, when I was beginning my second semester of 11th grade, and I was still 16 years old and a friend of mine in Barcelona had begun her chapter of FridaysForFuture. I came to know this friend a few years back when I was studying French on an app called HelloTalk. We would spend whole days and nights on calls and conversations about different issues. I'd talk about the Trump presidency, and she'd talk about the harsh Spanish response to Catalonia's independence attempt.
When she helped establish Fridays For Future BCN, I was so impressed and excited for her. I had heard of climate strikes before since they'd begun picking up headlines and press back in September. She had communicated with me about an upcoming strike date, March 15th. She said that millions would protest globally for a just transition, for the climate!
I was so inspired by her resilience and vigor that I decided that I would attend my own city's strike in Downtown Los Angeles. So I did what any amazing kid would do, I sat down and began to search Facebook and Instagram for a Fridays For Future Los Angeles. I didn't find it.
When I couldn't find where to sign up to a climate strike, I decided to create a page. I created an Instagram in mid-February for the Los Angeles climate strikes. I changed the handle consistently when I couldn't find a group that would do it until it eventually became @Climatestrike.la. I initially thought that I would create the page for them to find, and then when they took over I'd just attend. I didn't know who "them" was but I was going to help out until "them" showed up.
I had tried FridaysForFuture, but my experiences were enough to convince me to turn away. It was clear that the movement was Eurocentric in nature and that POC like myself weren't very welcome. At the time, I was intimidated, since I had few times encountered such subtle hostility. I thought people exaggerated when they talked about microaggressions, but when I experienced them I was forced to agree. (Note: This is by no means an attack on the amazing change and student activism they've engaged in, but there is a clear issue when it comes to their acknowledgment of privilege and their treatment of BIPOC. I, at the time of this writing am still blocked by the Fridays For Future USA Instagram.
Soon enough I was in contact with some amazing people. I met people like Arielle Martinez Cohen, Kevin Patel, Byron Cortez, and Z F. The youth got to work and 15 days later, we had Youth Climate Strike Los Angeles host Los Angeles' first Youth Climate Strike. I estimate a thousand attended that day, though a friend of mine teases that the estimate goes up by the week. That day was the day I realized that "them" didn't exist, and that we had to do our own work for us. I realized that nobody was going to save the turtles if it wasn't us. I wanted to save the polar bears, go zero waste, and go vegan.
A few weeks went by and we organized an April and May climate strike respectively. May 3rd was the day of our regular strike, but a global one was declared on the 24th, so we held one then as well. We hosted about 500 youth on May 24th, and I got to meet some more amazing people. People like Lydia Ponce, Tina Calderon, and Jennifer Wong. (Note: I can write a book with all of the amazing people I've met along the way, and maybe one day I will :))
On May 24th, I heard the amazing stories of people like me. Throughout the last strikes, I had listened to the words of Nalleli Cobo, Ivan Serna, Manasa Makineni, and Xiuhtezcatl on the steps of LA City Hall. I heard of the stories of these amazing human beings, and their struggles, and their experiences, the injustices that had been committed upon them. They reminded me of my struggles, but I didn't think mine were as connected to climate as theirs.
That same May I sat down with my mom, and I shared with her the beautiful words of courage I had heard on those City Hall Steps, and on the asphalt next to Pershing Square. I talked about how Nalleli had become sick because of oil, and about how the lands of indigenous people were being taken and destroyed around the Americas.
Then, she shared with me her story. She talked about her village, and about her childhood. My mom had shared with me her good memories, but never her bad ones. She talked about drought and poverty, of uncertainty and repression. She never denied enjoying her childhood, however, as it made her who she was.
When my mother was slightly younger than myself, her village was hit by a drought, and the arroyo that ran by her home dried. Then, the wells became mud. My mother, through a shaky voice, talked about how her mother would wring the mud for water, and ration it throughout the day. She talked about how her life revolved around water during those years.
I knew through a combination of memory and the stories of my parents that we had fled our country. There was violence and a threat of scarcity, and an ecological disaster. My parents and I fled our homes in Sinaloa to Baja California, and later California.
I then realized why I was fighting. I realized that I wasn't fighting for the turtles, or the polar bears, or even the trees. I was fighting for survival. I was fighting for liberation. I was fighting for decolonization. For peace.
Climate Strikes: What they are. What they aren't
I want to preface this by saying that I am not an authority on what something means to you, nor am I pretending to be. I am expressing my opinion as a person and in my experience.
For me, climate strikes were a way of showing government officials that we were here. It was a way of showing my parents that the urgency merited my absence at school. During climate strikes, I would selfishly gobble the speeches of those I admired, and learn from them and their advice. Being a child that had never skipped school, even when sick, I saw missing school as a big deal.
Climate strikes in Los Angeles looked like this. They looked like strong youth of color putting together an action fo other youth of color, sharing our stories and our cautionary tales. They became a place of education for our white siblings, and a place of community for our relatives. In my year of climate striking I have learned more than I did in my 14 years as an LAUSD student.
Until October, I never missed a single strike. These strikes were a beautiful creation. They were a moving piece of art. Art is resistance.
These strikes were not performative, they were not just an Instagram picture. They were a place of unity, and trust. Every time staffers walked into City Hall, they'd be forced to listen to our stories and see our numbers, even if for a few seconds. Sometimes we were few, sometimes we were many, but every time they saw us they were reminded that we wouldn't stand down.
I talk about their beauty, and I talk about their meaning because I fully believe that the sacrifices I made were justified. Whether you can see them or not, all people of color at these protests and strikes are risking something, they're sacrificing something. I'm not special, I'm no different. I sacrificed my grades, my social life, and my safety to organize these strikes.
I cannot forget the number of times I missed out on activities my friends enjoyed because I had an organizing call or a meeting in downtown. My absences were approximately 8 that year, and I was banned from our planned, in-person graduation ceremony (I got the last laugh). My parents were threatened with court by my attendance counselor.
When I was on my way to Downtown, I hauled the cart full of green cloth, cardboard, art supplies, and megaphones behind me. I rode a bus, then two trains then walked down a hill. When the Blue Line shuttered, I rode three buses. I would tremble on my way there because I knew that I'd share my story. I knew that we were less than a block from the Concentration Camp. I knew that there was a chance I wouldn't come back home, because the chance of being stopped by police was real, the chance of being thrown into a van back to the direction of the Concentration camp was real.
To me, climate strikes were fear and anxiety, but they were also courage and resistance.
To me, a climate strike is not a picture. To me, a climate strike is not a co-opted rally by white-led organizations. To me, a climate strike is not a performative action.
Climate strikes are Los Angeles' GND, our Climate Emergency Mobilization Department, our home.
Please, don't take that away.
© 2020 Jesus Villalba Gastelum