Vanessa Cascate of Mission Bay High School speaks at recent rally while Annie Annie Do of Serra High holds sign.
Vanessa Cascate of Mission Bay High School speaks at recent rally while Annie Annie Do of Serra High holds sign. Photo via San Diego Unified School District.

On Aug. 20, 2018, a Swedish schoolgirl skipped class to demand lawmakers take stronger action on climate change. Her three-week strike sparked a movement.

At her nation’s Parliament, Greta Thunberg held a sign and handed out leaflets saying: “I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future.”

This Friday, Gretas around the world will join the now 16-year-old activist in Global Climate Strikes (or Climate Walkouts). They include four who spoke last week to the San Diego school board:

  • Vanessa Cascate, a 17-year-old senior at Mission Bay High School, who plans on studying environmental policy.
  • Elea Castiglione, a 15-year-old sophomore at San Diego High School, who plans to study law and international relations and one day enter the political system either domestically or internationally.
  • Annie Do, a 15-year-old sophomore at Serra High High School, undecided on her study plans in college.
  • And Joya Saxena, a 17-year-old senior at Scripps Ranch High School, who hopes to study political science and journalism to become a community organizer and writer.

Aided by the climate action group SanDiego350 and blessed by unanimous school board resolutions in the San Diego and Sweetwater Union districts, students from at least 20 schools and colleges will leave class around lunchtime for marches and rallies — many with the public invited.

“We are excited to join students in this climate action rally,” San Diego schools Superintendent Cindy Marten said in a statement. “We also want to make sure our students are safe and do not leave our school sites for their safety and security.”

Back in Sweden, teacher Benjamin Wagner joined the Nordic protests. He said: “Greta is a troublemaker — she is not listening to adults. But we are heading full speed for a catastrophe, and in this situation the only reasonable thing is to be unreasonable.”

The San Diego Gretas seem to agree.

“Helping plan and speaking at walkouts is a very empowering experience,” said Elea. “I think it shows me that yes, we are students but we are also leaders with real power to change the system that is abusing the Earth.”

Said Annie: “By walking out, we want the world to see that we care, we’re terrified, and we need people to listen.”

San Diego school board remarks:

Masada Disenhouse, executive director at SanDiego350, said thousands of students will take part in San Diego County — among 600 similar events in America and over 2,000 worldwide in 150 nations.

This global strike comes a day before a Youth Climate Summit at United Nations headquarters in New York and the UN Global Climate Action Summit this coming Monday.

“This will be the largest climate demonstration at K-12 schools ever in San Diego – the most schools, and the most students,” SanDiego350 said. “Students are organizing actions in at least 16 high schools, with more adding on every day.”

Students at San Diego State University and University of San Diego will have parallel events Friday.

“My personal expectation is that all students will want to be involved in the walkout, since it has such a great impact on our lives and future,” Vanessa said. “There will be zero repercussions for student involvement, so realistically there should be no reason that a student wouldn’t want to participate.”

The local Gretas were queried about their plans and motivations. Interviews were conducted by email:

Times of San Diego: How long will the walkouts last?

Vanessa: Each event depends on what works for their school; some may last throughout lunch, others will have a “sit in” and will last all day. My school (Mission Bay) plans on our event lasting about two hours, but it may be longer depending on students who want to stay after school.

Elea: At San Diego High, we will be walking out at 12:20.

Annie: Most of my fellow activists are having short walkouts, lasting up to an hour. However, some plan to walk out and skip school all day.

Joya: At Scripps Ranch High School, we’re trying really hard to have our event last from 10 a.m. to the end of the day because only having the event for 30 minutes defeats the purpose of a walkout.

How many will involve marches — such as to San Diego City Hall?

Vanessa: My school will be walking to the Kendall-Frost Marsh, and we extended our invitation to teachers, parents, and we will be joined by professors, scientists and university students who want to get involved.

Elea: In our walkout, we will be walking to City Hall, as we have in the past. Hopefully we will be marching in cooperation with community members and schools. At City Hall, we will have student speakers and an open mic.

Annie Do on reason for walkout.
Annie Do on reason for walkout. Photo via SanDiego350

Annie: I only know of High Tech High planning that, so far.

Joya: A high school in Vista is having a sit-in at their City Hall.

How did you all get personally involved?

Vanessa: I believe I have always felt a personal connection with protecting the environment, but my Eco Club that I joined a year ago granted me a platform to become actively involved in speaking out.

Elea: I have always cared deeply about the planet, but last year I decided to speak at my school’s climate walkout in March. That was an amazing and fulfilling experience for me. I also feel that it is not only my civic, but also my moral duty to stand up for the planet that cannot stand up for itself.

Annie: I got involved with SD350 this summer, after learning about the climate crisis in school. I decided that I didn’t want to sit around and do nothing about it while my peers were out there, fighting the good fight.

Joya: I got personally involved because I’m inspired by Greta Thunberg. I used to hear a lot about climate change as a kid but Greta Thunberg showed us that we, the students, can actually fight for change and do something about it.

How long have you each been involved in climate action?

Vanessa: I’ve been involved in climate action for about a year now, and I’ve personally transformed my own lifestyle, along with my family’s, to a more sustainable and aware one in order to reduce our carbon footprint, and reduce our contribution to the climate crisis.

Elea: I think that my whole life I have been taught to respect and care for this beautiful planet we call home. I have only become actively involved in the movement for climate justice in the last few years. Helping plan and speaking at walkouts is a very empowering experience. I think it shows me that yes, we are students but we are also leaders with real power to change the system that is abusing the Earth.

Annie: I have only been involved since July.

Joya Saxena on reason for walkout.
Joya Saxena on reason for walkout. Photo via San Diego 350

Joya: I’ve been involved for only five months, but I’ve already gotten so much experience out of it.

How political will these walkouts be — given the major opposition to your efforts come from Republicans? Will you register voters, advocate for any candidates?

Vanessa: Regardless of political beliefs, this climate crisis affects everyone, no matter the age, economic background or political preference. So my hope is that, as youth, we will seize this opportunity to unite under one common goal. Though this issue is rooted to political ignorance, this is not the time for parties to debate the legitimacy of climate change. We will not be endorsing or opposing any political parties as to ensure that everyone feels included in the march for our future.

Elea: The climate is not a political issue anymore. It is a matter of whether or not we get to continue to live on the planet for the generations to come. We are not looking at our walk out as a Republican vs. Democrat issue, but as a statement to any politician or individual who stands in the way of climate justice. The Earth does not have a voice, so we are standing up and using ours. Yes, people will attempt to make this a political issue, but really it is an issue of who believes in science and who will fight to leave behind a livable planet.

Annie: I’m not sure about other schools, but at Serra we are opposed to President Trump’s wish to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

Joya: We do not endorse any one candidate, but we will be registering voters and advocating for the Green New Deal.

How are your teachers reacting to your activism on climate change?

Vanessa: Personally and luckily, the staff at my school seem to be very supportive and have given me positive feedback, such as they are inspired seeing youth advocate for their demands — especially because it will affect us the most.

Elea: I have had strong support from my teachers. As individuals who dedicate their lives to educating youth, they see the importance of giving us a healthy planet to grow up and thrive on. They also see the impact and change that can result when youth stand up for what they believe in.

Elea Castiglione on reason for walkout.
Elea Castiglione on reason for walkout. Photo via San Diego 350

Annie: All my teachers are very supportive.

Joya: I haven’t told a lot of them, but I heard the environmental science teacher is being really supportive of our movement and we’re so excited to have him speak.

Anything else readers should know about your involvement or the Sept. 20 event?

Vanessa: I encourage adults to join a walkout near them, and express their support for our cause. The more people participating, the greater the impact and awareness!

Elea: Now is the time to stand up for what matters, this planet and creating a future for our youth. My peers and I are using our voices to advocate for the change that this world needs. I encourage others to also participate in this historic movement for climate justice.

Annie: I would like readers to know that not all teenagers follow the negative stereotypes that we’re typically associated with. By walking out, we want the world to see that we care, we’re terrified, and we need people to listen.

Joya: I want readers to know that September 20 is just the beginning. Through this event, we hope to inspire kids like us to take action on this issue and be fearless. We want to give kids hope that they, too, can change the world for the better.