Friday for our Futures: September 20th Pasadena Climate Strike Led by Sequoyah Students

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On September 20th, students from Sequoyah’s high school led a climate strike at Pasadena City Hall to call out climate change inaction. The strike, which occurred from 8:30 AM to around 2:30 PM, was led by twelfth grader Ozzy Simpson, eleventh grader Julian Suh-Toma, and ninth grader Leah Haveson.

Simpson said he led the strike because “climate change is probably the most important thing that will affect us in our lifetimes and not much is being done about it, especially on a national government level.” Simpson also mentioned that the main motivator for starting a Pasadena strike was an email he received from Sunrise Movement, a youth-led group advocating for political action on the climate crisis, which asked youth to join or lead their own climate strikes on September 20th.

The Pasadena strike was a student-led event influenced by 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg. In August 2018, Thunberg began to skip school on Fridays and instead sit outside the Swedish parliament holding a sign that read (in Swedish) “School strike for climate.” At first she was the only protestor, but on September 20th, 2019, just over one year after her first strike, over 4 million people from around the world joined her in striking. Thunberg was nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for her outstanding achievement of organizing a string of protests called “Fridays for Future,” which leads school protests against climate change on Fridays. (Ethiopian Prime Minister Abby Ahmed won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize “for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation.”)

Members of the public supported student strikers and organizers (Barefoot Times staff)

Around 8:30 AM, members of the public and some members of the Sequoyah community, including Haveson, started rallying at City Hall. Students from Sequoyah began the strike by walking from the high school and K–8 campuses through Old Town Pasadena to Pasadena City Hall, holding signs encouraging action on climate change. Along the way, cars honked their support for the cause and other protesters could be seen holding signs and cheering along with the group. 

Sequoyah senior Selina Yang, a self-proclaimed scientist, said she walked out because “I feel like there’s an urge to communicate what really is climate change … I feel like there is much ‘debate’ about climate change that [is] spread in the media, but in reality, 97% of scientists agree that climate change is caused by human beings.”  

When Sequoyah’s students arrived at City Hall, they were joined by students from other schools such as The Waverly School, Polytechnic School, and Pasadena City College, as well as other members of the public. Simpson reported that about 450 people RSVPed to the strike and at least 500 people showed up throughout the day. 

Once there, students led chants, then deployed a “human microphone,” which was first popularized by the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations; the goal is to amplify a speaker’s voice within a crowd without equipment or permits. Simpson and Suh-Toma used this as a way to inform protesters about the 11-minute die-in that followed, where protesters laid down on the City Hall steps as if they were dead. (The die-in lasted for 11 minutes to signify the prediction that humans have 11 years left to stop climate change before it becomes irreversible.) During the die-in, students covered themselves in white sheets and held signs such as “Environmental imperialism stopped me in my tracks” and “Hope dies with me.”

Protesters participated in an 11-minute die-in at noon to signify the number of years left before climate change is irreversible (Justin Kenderes)

After the die-in, Pasadena Vice Mayor and Councilman Tyron Hampton spoke to the crowd and talked about the city’s Climate Action Plan. Hampton explained that 100% of power in the City of Pasadena will be renewable by 2030, in line with the goals of the Green New Deal. In an interview, Vice Mayor Hampton said, “I think it’s important that our world sees that our young people see that we need to make changes to our environment so that our environment and our world is in a better place when they have children….” 

Pasadena Vice Mayor Tyron Hampton spoke to protesters about the city’s Climate Action Plan (Barefoot Times staff)

Prior to marching to City Hall, Sequoyah students watched a climate change presentation by Sequoyah parent and environmental justice advocate Robert Parkhurst. In an interview, Parkhurst expressed his belief that this movement “is coming at a great time” and “that this movement will be the change.” Parkhurst added that “technology [is] driving the change, and then you’ve got the youth who are holding their elected representatives accountable, and pushing for this incessantly and voting.” He stated that the combination of the two was what “is going to change everything…. There is a lot of hope. I couldn’t be in this field for 25 years if I wasn’t an optimist.” 

To build on the momentum from September’s strike, Simpson said he hopes to start a Sunrise Movement chapter or an environmental club at Sequoyah that will plan more strikes as part of future national strikes. He hopes to mobilize the Sequoyah community to continue its work in the struggle for climate justice.