BHS Sunrise organizes protest in SF, calls Biden to climate action


Photo courtesy of BHS Sunrise and photo illustration by Ella Creane

“Climate justice is the biggest issue of our time and it can no longer be ignored. And because of that, we must be too young, too radical, and too impractical to ignore.” These were words said by youth climate activist Finn Does in a speech given at a protest on Monday, Feb. 19. The protest, put on by members of Berkley High School’s chapter of the national climate justice Sunrise Movement, called for President Biden to declare a climate emergency. The declaration would put climate action at the forefront of any new legislation that is passed.

Around 30 protesters gathered outside of the San Francisco Federal Building, holding various signs reading: “Fund climate action, not genocide,” “Biden, declare a climate emergency,” or “We demand climate curriculum.” Poems and speeches were read by various students from BHS, youth climate activists, poets, and one speech was given by former Berkeley councilwoman Cheryl Davila.

The BHS protest was part of a larger push on President’s Day to encourage Biden to declare a climate emergency. This push was put on by the Sunrise Movement, a movement with hubs all around the country. “All the way from Boise, Idaho, and New York, and Detroit, Michigan to here in the Bay Area, people are on the streets, people are holding actions, whether that be banner drops, or that be chants,” said Ariela Lara, an intern with the Sunrise Movement who led chants at the protest, “We are out here to make sure Biden hears us loud and clear that we need a climate emergency.”  

Declaring a climate emergency is an action done to acknowledge that humanity is in a climate crisis, and since the first governmental declaration in 2016, over 2,300 local governments around the world have declared a climate emergency, including Berkeley. 

The planet’s average surface temperature has risen by an average of about two degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century, according to NASA. These changes have been driven by human activities, such as fossil fuel mining that put greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Although a seemingly small amount, rising global temperatures have resulted in more extreme weather around the world, including flooding and wildfires. According to the Sunrise Movement website, declaring a climate emergency would end the fossil fuel era in the U.S., create green union jobs, and prepare for climate disasters.

Protestors read speeches motivating one another to stand up against climate change, highlighting the importance of youth organizing in climate action. “Climate change is a present-tense issue for (Generation) Z and for our communities. To speak of delaying action to the future would be a death sentence for us,” said Does in a speech, “This generation, our generation, all of us here today, are rising up in the face of perpetual devastation and the turned heads of our leaders when we need them most. Our movement is against the odds but we do not stop marching, resisting, speaking up for what’s right.” 

Declaring a climate emergency now, protestors shared, is even more important due to the upcoming election later this year. According to BHS Sunrise leader and senior Meghan Malone, by aiming their message directly towards Biden, the movement is also showing that the votes of young people, which Biden lacks, stand behind climate action, and that in order to get those votes, Biden needs to set firm climate goals. 

“Whoever has the best plan to make sure that we and our children, our grandchildren, have a future on this planet, that’s who deserves the youth vote. Maybe that will be Biden, and maybe it won’t be, but we have to remind him that he can’t win this election without the youth vote,” said Malone. 

Some activists shared poems with the crowd, using art to speak about their experiences with climate change or share ideas of a better world. “The importance of poetry and art is to empower and give us hope. It’s a way to be able to really see the lens of our future and our present that unites us and paints a beautiful story that people can connect to,” said Azucena Uribe, a BHS junior who shared a poem at the protest. “It’s really important that we tap into that art and that hopefulness. Now, when things are so tragic, it is so important that we can see that there is a future, and it comes from being alive, and it comes from vibrancy and comes from being able to tap into yourself and seeing that future. That’s the way that we will come together,” added Uribe.

Amaya Dorman Mackenzie, a senior and the BHS Sunrise president and organizer of the climate protest, spoke on how it’s okay to be angry when thinking about climate change, but that anger must be used to drive action, “There’s a step between hopelessness and action. I think that step oftentimes is anger … but it’s okay to be angry … It’s imperative that we act.” 

Dorman Mackenzie added later, “It can be seen as incredibly heavy weights that we have to carry as long as possible. But if you carry a little bit, if each of us carry a little bit of it, then it’s less for any one person to carry. And I think that (is part of what happens) when you work in a community. There’s less on each of our shoulders.”