Local youth activists did not let the global pandemic discourage their plans to demand that government leaders support the Green New Deal (GND) and other policies regarding the environmental welfare of humanity during Earth Day 2020.
Ozzie Simpson, student lead coordinator of Sunrise Sequoyah and founding member of Sunrise LA Youth, kicked off the week last Monday by being on the front lines of his organization’s first virtual protest titled #GetGreenFeinstein.
Due to COVID-19 many people are turning to new avenues to hold events and still follow preventative guidelines such as social distancing and staying home.
In the past, local youth have advocated for a greener future on the streets of Pasadena — engaging large crowds in climate strikes and getting the attention of local government leaders through rallies and protests.
I asked Simpson how he was able to come up with a virtual strategy to target U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein.
“In February, a few friends and I attended Sunrise’s high school summit in D.C. where we got trained to take action on Earth Day. While we couldn’t go to the streets for our action (which was the original plan), the idea for a virtual office takeover came out of a group of California students who went to the summit who still wanted to target an elected official on a larger-than-local level. After getting the idea from that group, we worked with the new Sunrise LA Youth hub to put together #GetGreenFeinstein.”
The virtual call to action strategy consisted of several techniques to capture Feinstein’s attention: flooding her office with good old fashioned phone calls from across the nation, hitting her social media accounts with a storm of tweets and responding to Feinstein’s latest posts via social media.
Any last minute changes to a plan can be difficult for anybody at any age, I asked Simpson to identify the most challenging part about planning a protest this year.
“The biggest challenge was putting together something so quickly. We originally started to plan our week of action for Earth Day in late February, and had to pivot our plans in the last month. We actually weren’t really sure if we would do anything for Earth Day, besides participating in national actions, when the stay-at-home orders started to take place, but over the past couple of weeks students from around L.A. were interested in taking action on a more local level.”
Simpson continued, “Another challenge was getting people to participate. When doing a physical action, it’s a lot easier to get people engaged and wanting to join, mostly because the action is very visible to the public. With a digital action, it’s very hard for it to get seen without significant exposure on social media (which we luckily got a little bit of).”
Per Simpson, about 60 people signed up to participate with him last Monday and although there was more participation on a campaign from Northern California, their virtual protest reached over 20,000 people via social media.
Besides the normal green policy demands local youth have been advocating for, this time they also included healthcare for all, investing in a plan to be prepared for the next crisis and direct relief for everyone impacted by COVID-19 as part of their demands to Senator Feinstein.
“We incorporated the People’s Bailout as a demand because we felt like just asking for a Green New Deal or for the Senator to recommit to the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge would be tone-deaf during a time when millions of people are experiencing hardship and unemployment due to the coronavirus pandemic.”
Simpson expounded, “The government’s stimulus packages are doing the opposite of what they should be by bailing out large corporations instead of ordinary people who need help the most — which is what the People’s Bailout calls for. While we definitely think that the Green New Deal could help solve some of the current problems — such as providing millions of good paying jobs, universal healthcare, and more — it’s often seen as only a solution to the climate crisis, and the COVID-19 crisis is just as important if not more important right now.”
The official demand to Senator Feinstein for a People’s Bail Out read as follows:
“We need a People’s Bailout, short-term economic relief and support for people and community health. People are struggling now and need immediate government support. COVID-19 is the biggest disruption to our society that we have faced in a generation, and the American people are looking for answers. We know what needs to happen: a stimulus package in line with the five principles of a People’s Bailout and a longer-term recovery to create a society that works for everyone. It is the role of our movement and hubs to bring the vision of this post-pandemic future to the public.”
Local young activists are still waiting for any formal response from Senator Feinstein’s office but Simpson stays fairly optimistic and expects one soon.
Simpson’s next focus is to aid the Sunrise LA Youth attract as many middle and high school students to join the climate movement and be ready to take their protests back to the streets when it is safe to do so again.