By Saraphina Forman
Sophomore, Northampton High School, Northampton and Whately, MA
Editor’s Note: The Hitchcock Center is working to provide a conduit for youth voices for the environment and climate change action. Through our Western MA Youth Climate Summit and other methods, we are educating and empowering youth to take action in their communities. For this post and this post, we interviewed two Western MA Youth Climate Strike organizers to learn more about what it is like to help organize this historic movement and actions to support change.
1) What is your role in the MA Climate Strike?
I am the state lead for Massachusetts of the US Youth Climate Strikes.
2) What led you to decide to participate in the MA Climate Strike?
I think I’ve always believed that it is everyone’s responsibility to protect the world around them and protect the future — you can’t sit by passively and expect things to be solved. This belief may have stemmed from growing up near Northampton and being exposed to the great hub of progressivism here, or from being a Jew, where the religion is centered around concepts like “Tikkun Olam” —repair of the world. Whatever the case, this mindset naturally led me to involvement in advocacy, activism, and organizing. Throughout elementary and middle school, I did things like walk dogs, do photography exhibits, and organize hiking fundraisers to raise money for rainforest conservation and making clean water accessible to communities that don’t have it. Environmental activism is something that I’ve always found really important, probably because it’s the most basic need– a planet to live on. If we mess this one up, humans won’t exist anymore. I’m also really interested in environmental activism because it’s directly tied to so many other crucial issues I care about, like racial and economic justice and feminism.
My amazing friend Clea Paz, a UN Climate Specialist who I had worked with before with my school’s environmental club, sent me a video of Greta Thunberg after Clea heard Greta speak in Poland. Like most youth who hear about Greta, I was instantly inspired. Her actions make so much sense because a strike is a way to convey the urgent, house-is-on-fire type of change we need to see. I instantly wanted to get involved. I found out about the US Youth Climate Strikes which were just starting up, and contacted them. Eventually I joined the Slack (group chat app) community of youth climate advocates around the country and set up an MA community as well.
3) What do you hope to accomplish with the MA Climate Strike?
I hope to send a message out to our world leaders, on a state, national, and international level, demanding drastic climate action now. Climate change is not some ordinary issue that we can continue to half-heartedly address; it is real and now and it means extinction if we don’t do more. We are calling for our world leaders to hear this, and for them to take the action that has been scientifically shown to be necessary in order to avoid this extinction. This means complying with the Paris Agreement and (for the federal government) to support the Green New Deal, along with other climate legislation, like an equitable transition to 100% renewable energy by 2030, carbon fee and dividend, the declaration of a national emergency on climate change, and all the other parts of our platform. Although individual action is important, in order for us to truly do what it takes to avoid climate disaster, we need large-scale, systemic, structural change and support from even the most intransigent legislators and businesspeople. It is true that one voice calling out to them to take action might not have an impact, but it has been shown that millions of voices really do matter and really do make a difference. I hope that by striking, we are emphasizing the urgency by disrupting the status quo and participating in action they can’t ignore. I want to also highlight the fact that this won’t stop now, and that the March 15 strike wasn’t a one-day event that’s over now— we are keeping up the momentum and won’t stop until we our demands are met. Because if we do stop, we are surrendering to giving up our future and the future of humanity. Years from now, I don’t want to have to answer the questions of children asking why we didn’t do something while we still could.
4) Where have you found the most support for organizing the strike?
I have found so much support for organizing the strike. There are so many young people who I have met, especially across MA, who are just incredibly passionate and dedicated to making a difference. It’s been great working with them— we are united under this common cause because we know it is our futures that are at stake.
Local organizations, like Climate Action Now of Western Mass for example, have also been super helpful, always ready to lend a hand with advice, rides, or even finances.
5) As a student, what challenges do you face in organizing a statewide strike?
Well, a big challenge is just that— being a student. I juggle academics and many AP classes, sports, arts etc as well as advocacy, so it is hard to fit them all together. Many times I did not get a chance to even start my homework until midnight! Reaching out to politicians and press and businesses was also difficult, because I am in school for the main office hours when people are available to take calls. It’s also challenging to figure out priorities and how to make the biggest impact. Many people can’t or don’t want to skip school every Friday… so should we just plan a few deep strike days when a lot of people could come? Should I strike individually every week?
And then, of course, there are the logistical hurdles, which can be tough. For example, we initially tried to get excused absences for all students in the district on March 15, but this wasn’t possible. And rides are always tough with such a young group.
And then there’s the challenge of just helping people to see climate change as the urgent disaster it is, and getting them to really care.
I am always learning so much about advocacy and climate action and organizing, and I definitely have a lot more to learn!
6) Have you been able to work with other students across the state or only with students at your school or in your community?
I am part of a nationwide Slack with all of the state leads, along with a Slack of fellow MA organizers. We communicate through online chats mostly, but we do have conference calls, and I of course talk with the other climate activists at my school, like the other leaders of the NHS Environmental Club. We also have social media, through which people are always messaging us. I think all these online tools are incredible because they make everything so much easier and they have allowed this movement to grow in a way that would have been unthinkable 50 years, or even 20 years, ago— one tweet can start a movement! But I also see the drawbacks. When we’re not talking together and organizing all the details together, we don’t work together as well as a movement and so I think (and I’m really talking about the national level here) we’re lacking some of the bones that could make the movement so much stronger. I hope we can work on this in the future and overcome the curse of online organizing while utilizing its blessings, so that we can keep becoming better and more powerful.
7) You participated in the Western Mass Youth Climate Summit hosted by the Hitchcock Center for the Environment and Mass Audubon’s Arcadia Sanctuary. Where there take-aways from the Summit that have influenced you and your work? OR Was there a particularly influential moment in your life, or a series of events, that really provided the call to action for you be passionate about climate action and organizing the strike?
Yes, I went to the Western Mass Youth Climate Summit! I loved it, especially the fact that there were so many knowledgeable people who led me to see climate change from different angles. Dr. Sue Van Hook’s presentation on mycology and the carbon stored in soils was particularly fascinating.
Being encouraged to think up ideas of big projects to do and also hearing the projects that other schools had previously accomplished really inspired me and encouraged me to think big. It was especially helpful on a local level for improving the high school and the community, but I think the mentality of thinking big has also helped with the strike and the more political aspects of climate action.
It was also cool to meet other climate activist in the area, and I was actually working with some of the same Amherst high schoolers I met at the summit during the planning of the climate strike!
8) What reactions have you received from fellow students and others as a result of your work? Has it all been positive, or have you encountered opposing perspectives? I haven’t really heard opposing perspectives per se, but that doesn’t mean everyone was super eager to get involved either. We did have a group of around 30 NHS students going to the Boston strike (!), but there were many students who knew climate change was an issue but weren’t willing or able to make that commitment to showing up for the strike. That being said, I totally recognize that it’s hard, and also that some students are more privileged than others, and so for some people, striking is not an option. I, along with the entire movement, welcome people to take action in whatever form they can, including wearing green in solidarity, holding a walkout, calling a representative, and/or of course minimizing your personal carbon footprint by doing things like decreasing the amount of animal products you consume or driving less.
9) We know there are students whose parents/family/caregivers or teachers/schools may not support the strike. Why do you think it’s important that students participate? What kind of support has helped you to take a leadership role?
For a response to people who don’t support the strike, I really think Greta put it best: “Some say I should be in school. But why should any young person be made for to study for a future when no one is doing enough to save that future? What is the point of learning facts when the most important facts given by the finest scientists are ignored by our politicians?”
I want to emphasize that everyone will be affected by climate change. Whoever you are, wherever you are, you and your grandchildren will not be exempt from climate change or its impacts. And everyone has a role to play in the climate solutions.
I am fortunate to have had encouragement from several classmates, teachers, and family members, who all supported me in taking on a leadership role.
10) For you, what was the most successful and inspiring part of participating the MA Climate Strike?
It was inspiring to see so many people (around 1500) gathered together in front of the state house. It was such a physical stand for climate action and it felt really powerful and validating to feel all this passionate, determined energy in one place. It was also very cool to hear the panel of legislators (a part of the strike in Boston) and really engage in that conversation.
11) There may be students who are hesitant to participate in a strike. What would your advice to them be?
I think I would just say that no action is too small to be helpful. I would encourage you to learn more about the movement and what you can do and why we care so much, and if you have any questions at all, we’re here to help. You can contact firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on social media @climatestrikema.
12) What are your immediate reflections on participating in the Climate Strike?
I think it was very powerful, but the fight isn’t over yet. Until we see change, the fight isn’t over. We have the science and data and the solutions, but we are lacking the political will necessary to make a difference. We will keep striking and letting our politicians know we care about climate action until that political will exists. It is also a bit unfortunate, but the truth is that the USA could have done better. The US strikes paled in comparison to the numerous European and Australian cities’ strikes of hundreds of thousands. It was a start, but we need to continue the momentum, and we are running out of time.
But yes, the Boston strike was a big success and I am so grateful for everyone who worked to put it together— sponsors, partner organizations, MA organizers, speakers, the band… and of course, the attendees! Let’s keep it up— we’ve got this!
Read more about Saraphina and other Youth Climate Strike organizers in this Washington Post article.Click here to return to full list of blog entries. Or chose a specific Blog category below.