Alexandria Villaseñor is a 13-year-old climate justice activist and one of three lead organizers, together with Isra Hirsi and Haven Coleman, of US Youth Climate Strike. She is part of a global movement of students who are striking from school to protest inaction on climate change. The global Youth Climate Strike is taking place on March 15 in more than 90 countries all across the world.
Alexandria has been striking every Friday for the last 13 weeks on a bench outside of the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. She tells us why below.
It was 10 degrees when I zipped into my sleeping bag on the eighth week of my strike in front of the UN and settled in between two signs I wrote that said “COP 24 FAILED US” and “School Strike 4 CLIMATE.” That same week, 160 cold-temperature records were set in the Midwest and Northeast in the span of two days. At least 21 people died as a result of the cold and snow and in some places in the US, temperatures dropped to 45 degrees F below zero.
On the day of my strike, a Friday as usual, New York City was expecting a windchill coming off the East River of −2 degrees. Preparing to strike in that weather is not an easy task. There are not many clothes that can keep you warm at 10 degrees, if you are not moving around much. I thought a sleeping bag would do a better job, so I bought one that could withstand sub-zero temperatures. My mom got me a thermos that could keep tea hot and gel heat packs to put in my sleeping bag and use throughout the day. On the day of the strike, it took more than five minutes for my mom to zip me up in the sleeping bag. People stopped to look. Someone thought I was homeless. I spent the entire day in that sleeping bag, and it worked—it kept me warm!
Protesting in that weather made me realize climate change will force us to live differently and deal with more extreme weather. People are dying right now and we need to act on climate. Adults making decisions today do not take into consideration that my generation will be the one to live through the worst of the climate crisis and feel its effects and the extreme weather that comes with it.
I first decided to act on climate after a trip back home to visit with family in Davis, California. It was around Thanksgiving, when the Camp Fire broke out. The air became toxic, at least 86 people died and 13,972 residences and 4,821 buildings were destroyed. We were 90 miles away and smoke was seeping into our home. You couldn’t go outside! Myself and others had to roll up wet towels and put them under the doors. Some people made DIY filters. I have asthma, so my family decided to fly me back to New York City early because it wasn’t safe for me there anymore.
I realized the raging wildfires and prolonged droughts that were becoming common in California weren’t normal. I started looking online, searching and learning about climate change, what it is and what I can do about it, when I came across Greta Thunberg.
Greta was 15 at the time. She always spoke the truth and all she said was real. She put in place this structure, Fridays For Future, that allowed students to get their voices heard. Every Friday, Greta missed her classes to sit outside Sweden’s parliament to protest inaction on climate change. I saw Greta and thought, If she can do it, then so can I.
I decided to strike every Friday in front of the UN headquarters in New York. My family was very supportive and still is. School won’t matter in the future if we’re too busy running from extreme weather events. We might not be old enough to vote, but we can strike from school and draw attention to the issues we care about. I wanted to do something myself, and I didn’t want to wait around for events from other organizations. I thought about striking in front of City Hall or in front of a government’s office, but none of those spoke to me. Then I thought, The UN is where the whole world comes together, and I should strike there. Climate change is a problem that doesn’t have borders, and its solutions can’t have borders either.
We youth are growing up in a time when we are seeing more and more the effects of climate change. Decades of inaction have left us with just 11 years to change the trajectory of the worst effects of climate change, according to the 2018 UN IPCC Report. We are striking because our world leaders have yet to acknowledge, prioritize or properly address our climate crisis. We are striking because marginalized communities across our nation—especially communities of color, disabled communities and low-income communities—are already disproportionately impacted by climate change. We are striking because if the social order is disrupted by our refusal to attend school, then the system is forced to face the climate crisis and enact change.
On Friday, March 15, the US Youth Climate Strike will join a global movement of students striking in more than 90 countries around the world. There has never been a global day of action where people from so many countries joined under the same cause. We ask for radical legislative action to combat climate change and its countless detrimental effects on the American people. We ask all adults to come out to their local strike and rally and support the student strikers. We need to look at the big picture and we need everyone on board to make the biggest impact. Change is coming, whether you like it or not.
Climate activism can be as simple as going outside with a sign and standing in front of your local government office. More students today should take direct action. If you can’t join a strike, wear green in solidarity with strikers everywhere. Make your own sign and bring it with you to class. Be creative. We can’t change a broken system from within the system because we will fail.