How the 2018 Camp Fire inspired a 14-year-old Davis local to lead US Youth Climate Strike
Over the past year, a global youth climate movement has taken off, and a huge part of American involvement in the movement can be attributed to 14-year-old Davis local Alexandria Villaseñor. Though she moved to New York City with her mother Kirstin Hogue in recent years, she returned to her hometown of Davis for Thanksgiving 2018.
Villaseñor said the effects on air quality from the Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif. in Nov. 2018 worsened her asthma to such an extent that her parents sent her back to New York City, ending her trip to Davis early.
“I was very angry, because it’s becoming the new normal here in California,” she said.
Upon returning to New York, Villaseñor was so upset about the reality of California’s wildfires that she began researching extreme weather conditions. She soon found the link between climate change and wildfires and said she felt the need to take action. Villaseñor was also inspired after seeing Greta Thunburg speak and decided to begin striking on her own.
“On Dec. 14, 2018 […] I started striking weekly in front of the United Nations headquarters,” Villaseñor said.
Hogue said that she had laughed when Villaseñor first casually suggested they strike — Hogue assumed they would go out and strike, perhaps get some lunch, and “that would be that.” After Villaseñor began her weekly strikes, joining in on Thunberg’s Fridays for Future movement, Hogue says that she and her daughter never would have believed what lay ahead for them.
Since Dec. 14, Villaseñor has never missed a Friday, and does not plan to any time soon. Villaseñor’s consistent striking quickly caught public attention, inspiring people to join her in her weekly strikes and spread the “Fridays for Future” movement.
Villaseñor explained why she thinks the movement caught so much media attention and why it has been able to continue to grow in size and impact.
“When you strike, you are disrupting the system and, from that striking, it’s also a way to put pressure on those in power to take climate action,” Villaseñor said. “The Friday strikes are consistent, and that’s really helped keep up the momentum of the movement. It’s predictable, too; we are gonna be out there every single Friday.”
The movement helped Villaseñor get started, but she didn’t stop there — she was one of the lead organizers for the New York City Climate strike on Sept. 20, 2019, in which 315,000 students and adults, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, helped shut down the financial district. This strike kicked off the United Nations Global Climate Summit, including the first-ever Youth Global Climate Summit — both of which Villaseñor attended.
Villaseñor and her co-organizers had three main goals going into the summit: preventing the use of new fossil fuels, pursuing renewable energy by 2030 and holding polluters accountable for their actions.
“We really took our third demand, holding polluters accountable, to the next level on [Sept.] 23, because it’s when the Children vs Climate Change complaint was launched,” Villaseñor said. “Myself, Greta Thunberg and 14 other children from all around the world filed a complaint to the committee on the rights of the child saying that five countries […] were violating our rights as children by their inaction. Article six on the convention of the rights of the child states that we have an inherent right to life, but with more of these extreme weather events […] it’s directly threatening that article.”
Lodging this complaint with other notable youth activists including 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg is not where Villaseñor’s incredible achievements begin and end. She also launched her own non-profit organization, Earth Uprising, which educates students about the basics of climate change, urging them to get involved in local climate strikes and creating a forum for people — specifically indigenuous groups — to share their personal experiences within the climate change movement.
“After organizing all of these global climate strikes, I really saw how we were getting a lack of engagement by young people not knowing why to strike,” Villaseñor said. “When young people went in there and they really educated their peers, […] then they wanted to come out and protest and take action because they knew what they needed to do after knowing the science.”
Earth Uprising promotes climate education by presenting to classrooms — integrating climate education into school systems’ curriculum and forming groups on college campuses. The organization has ambassadors in over 50 countries who present the movement in a way fitting for their country while staying true to its global mission. Additionally, it listens to groups that have been taking care of the Earth as part of their cultural practices, particularly indigenuous groups. Villaseñor said learning from these people who have such an investment in and connection to their environment can teach us much of what we need to do to protect the planet.
Recently, Villaseñor spoke about the importance of every person getting involved in an English class at UC Davis. She emphasized that, because of the momentum the youth global climate movement has, now is a vital time for young people to take action. The advice she gave to UC Davis students is to do what you can for those who cannot.
“If you are privileged enough to be able to go out [and strike] and make your voice heard, then go out and make your voice heard,” she said.
Written by: Katie DeBenedetti — firstname.lastname@example.org