OAKLAND — Arian Terani, a Skyline High senior, hoped to lure passersby to the youth climate strike in front of City Hall on Friday. So he donned a rainbow unicorn onesie and facepaint to evoke positive curiosity as he walked around Frank Ogawa Plaza.
“I feel like if they see a bunch of people they may think, ‘Oh, it’s just another strike,’ but if they see something colorful, maybe make it like, ‘Oh, it’s a positive thing,’ ” Terani said. “I’m representing my school, Skyline High School, and we’re here to talk about pollution, homelessness, coal usage and climate justice as well. … I talk to a lot of people, including my own parents; they don’t know the stuff that we learned in school. It’s for teaching others so they could be more mindful.”
Grownups like Dan Kalb, Oakland City District 1 council member, showed up in solidarity of the demonstration, part of the global Fridays for Future protest.
“The youth of our region are here to say no coal, no air pollution — not just in Oakland — but anywhere in the Bay Area. Anywhere in the country. Anywhere in the world,” Kalb said.
“Coal and other forms of air pollution and other forms of environmental health problems have got to stop. This is a gathering, one of many gatherings where the youth of our city, of our region, of our country are saying, ‘Enough is enough.’ So I’m here not to be a leader but to take a lead from our youth.”
Kalb is the exact kind of powerbroker students like Leela Korde, a seventh-grader at Northern Light School, wanted to reach with their September 23rd action.
“Officially we are declaring that we are not going to be part of this oppression,” Korde said, referring to the multitude of adverse health and social effects caused by humanmade environmental pollution.
“We’re trying our hardest to talk to our representatives and people who are in power that could help us create different laws that decrease the amount of fossil fuels that are being consumed,” she said.
Youth climate strikes in the Bay Area date back to March 2019, when students began organizing Fridays for Future protests. Those protests started abroad when Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg mobilized other students against that country’s Parliament and its political inaction on climate change every school day for three weeks in August 2018.
Local activists have won some victories since then: The Port of Richmond agreed to end storage and handling of coal and pet coke at its Levin-Richmond Terminal by Dec. 31, 2026. California Attorney General Rob Bonta joined West Oakland residents in asking for a halt to the construction of a controversial, open-air sand and gravel plant that opponents say could dirty the air those residents breathe.
But some fights are proving harder than others. Oakland moved to terminate its lease with would-be coal terminal developer Phil Tagami at the West Gateway section of the former Oakland Army Base years ago and continues negotiating to settle a lawsuit filed by Tagami.
Tagami had reached an agreement with the city in 2013 to develop a terminal on city-owned land on the port’s Outer Harbor. The lawsuit came after Oakland enacted a coal ban in 2016 that derailed the Fox Theater developer’s plans to import and export it at the terminal.
No Coal activists rallied in support of Oakland city officials opposing Tagami in 2017, and now council members like Kalb stand by the younger protesters joining the fight.
“Our city, our country, our planet need to be protected from the environmental harms that are being perpetrated upon us, and our youth are saying loudly and clearly that it’s got to stop,” Kalb said. “We need to respect their views and support their efforts and say, ‘No coal in the East Bay, no pollution in the Bay Area. Enough is enough.’”
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