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Good Job Striking, Now Here's How to Make Your Climate Activism Have an Impact

Friday's climate strike is about a lot more than just a single day of action.

by Geoff Dembicki; illustrated by Nico Teitel
Sep 19 2019, 4:29pm

This article is part of a series on climate change activism VICE is running in the lead-up to the climate strike on September 20. Read the other entries in the series here and here.

Alaskan cities are experiencing temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, Miami floods are up 12-fold from just two decades ago and Washington, D.C., got a record-smashing 3.3 inches of rain in a single hour this July. All of this is terrifying, but we can expect climate-driven natural disasters to get even worse in the years to come—and people under 40 may legitimately find it hard to imagine what the world's climate will look like decades down the road.

A growing body of scientific research warns that if we do not immediately begin cutting greenhouse gas emissions we could pass an irreversible tipping point within four decades—or possibly sooner. Anyone in high school or college today could see massive strains on the food and water systems necessary for human civilization by the time they're middle-aged. That's why a majority of teens are worried about climate change, and why a quarter of them have already participated in activism around the issue, according to a recent poll.

That is also why thousands—and possibly millions—of people will be walking out of their schools and jobs on September 20 and 27 to force our leaders to create an economy that no longer depends on climate-destroying fossil fuels.

Current and former student organizers contacted by VICE said that if enough young people rise up against the politicians and CEOs locking us into catastrophe it could make the future less scary for all of us. Here are some of their suggestions.

Find a group to strike with rather than going it alone

You might not feel you have that much in common with your classmates. But they're almost certainly just as scared as you are about the climate dystopia on the horizon. Amplify this collective fear into a statement parents, teachers, media, and politicians can't ignore by finding other people at your school to strike with.

"Any action is more powerful if you do it in a group," said Juliana Rossi de Camargo, a fellow with the Sunrise Movement, which is helping organize students for the September walkouts. "Although individual action is important to a certain extent, it is not what we need right now, what we need is systems change."

The easiest way to do this is to seek out student-led climate organizations at your school or college. But basically any student group whose members have an interest in averting doomsday can work. In a pinch, just ask 10 of your friends—and ask them to each ask 10 of their own.

"This seems really daunting, like, 'Who am I, I'm just one person,'" Rossi de Camargo said. "But social movements have always just had regular people participate, and if enough people get together they can get their demands met."


Identify the politicians you can pressure in your own backyard

Actions on the day of the strikes are completely up to you and your group. Maybe you all go silent in class, gather in front of the school, or join one of the larger demonstrations taking place in your area. Make sure you tell teachers and parents why you are striking and tag any photos and videos you post with #ClimateStrike.

If you really want to amp up the effectiveness of your strike, target one of your elected officials with your message. Perhaps that's a city councillor who's voted against new public transit, a state representative who supports the coal lobby, or a member of Congress who opposes the Green New Deal.

"Depending on where you are, there's so many creative opportunities to build a movement and put the pressure on," said Chloe Maxmin, one of the early student organizers of the fossil fuel divestment movement and now a state representative in Maine.

Earlier this spring, Maxmin sponsored a "Green New Deal for Maine" bill that would shift the state to 80 percent renewable energy by 2040. On the first day of hearings hundreds of students showed up at the state house to show their support.

"That has an impact," she said. "There's so much potential for amazing climate policy at the state level and I think that has been really overlooked by the left." The bill passed its final legislative hurdle in June.

Link your local action to a wider revolutionary demand

Even as you target politicians and other people in power locally, figure out a way your strike can help contribute to systemic change.

Pushing your city to commit to 100 percent renewable energy is one potential goal because it's a concretely achievable action that would also, at scale, transform our entire economy. The same goes for getting your college to divest from fossil fuels.

One of the more successful recent examples of this is the 2012 Quebec student strikes, which brought more than 300,000 people into the streets over a 78 percent increase in tuition fees but evolved over six months into a wider critique of austerity policies. Demonstrations eventually led to the election of a new provincial government and the cancellation of the fee hike.

"I think movements are strong when they're able to do both of those things at the same time: to ask big questions about the system we live in but to also mobilize people on a very specific target," said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, one of the strike leaders and now an elected member of the democratic socialist political party Quebec solidaire. "This is one of the lessons from 2012."

Radicalize your parents

The climate strikes are a perfect opportunity to have a conversation about the climate emergency with your parents and convince them that nothing short of making our entire economy zero-carbon is an acceptable response.

Under normal circumstances your mom and dad might dismiss that as impractical, or perhaps even as a socialist plot to take away their hamburgers. But hearing directly from you why climate change is so terrifying that you're willing to miss school could impact their thinking.

"It's helpful to have these strikes as a way to reach parents and tell them that this is a crisis and that this is a matter of our future," said Rose Strauss, a Sunrise activist who went viral last year after a Republican called her "young and naïve."

Keep the conversation with your parents neutral and non-accusatory. Ask a lot of questions. Identify what's holding them back from taking action and make helpful, practical suggestions. Maybe they even want to join the strikes with you. Consult this recent VICE guide for more details and advice.

Use your strike action to build toward 2020

Even in a best-case strike scenario with millions of participants and a Herculean shift in public opinion, the U.S. still faces the potential reelection of a president who has drastically rolled back environmental protections and given fossil fuel executives so much access to the White House that attendees at a private oil industry meeting erupted in laughter earlier this year.

To that effect, the climate strikes could be used as a tool to organize young people into a powerful voting block to counter both Trump and Senate Republicans who have enabled him every step of the way.

Practically speaking, this could mean setting up a voter information station at your strike event or walking around with a clipboard and registering people to vote. Sunrise has guides for how to do this. "Our votes are likely going to be the deciding factor in the 2020 elections," reads one sample script. "Can I help you register or update your voter registration today?"

Think of the September climate strikes as one of many actions leading up to next November. And check out this VICE guide for future suggestions.

"All of this organizing in my mind goes into making sure that we're pressuring candidates, that people are coming out to vote and that the youth voice is really defining the landscape next year," Maxmin said.

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Geoff Dembicki is the author of Are We Screwed? How a New Generation Is Fighting to Survive Climate Change . Follow him on Twitter.