Westridge seniors pose mid-march with their homemade signs. From left: Reese O. '20 Ellie M. '20, Zora S. '20, Jenna H '20, Phia H.'20, Abby Y. '20, Solaar K. '20, Abbey P. '20
There was a buzz around campus on the morning of September 20. As students across the world walked out of class to participate in the Global Climate Strike, Westridge high schoolers were mobilizing to do the same. Armed with signs that read “the teens are angry” and “there is no planet B,” Westridge students caught the Gold Line to Downtown Los Angeles to take part in the historic day.
Zora S. ‘20 felt strongly about her responsibility to march. “Climate change is the most pressing issue that faces our generation. I think we need to show that we’ll stop at nothing,” she asserted. “That’s why we’re leaving school.”
But some Westridge students might not share the same sense of urgency. Earlier that same week, when Town Meeting provided an opportunity for the Upper School community to gather and share their opinions on the climate strike, as well as any advice they might have to minimize their environmental impact, the conversation drifted towards the use of metal straws and Hydroflasks instead, suggesting rather simple acts of personal agency.
But some students believe the climate crisis demands more collective action than simply opting out of using plastic straws or buying a reusable water bottle. “A strike is supposed to disrupt the flow of things,” said Mirelle L. ‘21, who writes the “Green Gastronomy” Spyglass column. She recognizes that the protest will not immediately produce the systemic change needed, but she believes that it will encourage greater action in the future. “I think that [the strike] is definitely still a good place to start.”
Hundreds of students take to the streets of Downtown Los Angeles, joined by thousands others across the nation and the world.
Others, like Gracie B. ‘20, aren’t sure that the protest accomplished much. “We need to be doing more than just using metal straws, but then don't we need to do more than just walking out?” she asked of her peers. Lily N. ‘20 advocated for an entirely different form of activism. “Don't stage a walkout,” she urged her classmates. “Stage a walk in. Cancel classes for a day or even more, replace them with courses built to educate people about the implications, draft policies and send them to officials.”
Quintynn V. ‘21 posed a similar question: “What is the point of the walkout? Is it just to raise awareness? Because I think we’ve already surpassed that point.” In addition, Quintynn questioned whether her classmates are walking out for the right reasons. She has noticed that performative activism plagues some Westridge students. “In the past, a lot of people have abused the right to walk out.” Many students instead participate in protests simply “because the majority of their class is.”
Some students suggest that this disingenuity might be attributed to the newly required Civic Engagement forms at Westridge. With a parent or guardian’s signature of consent, students are allowed to leave campus in order to participate in protests without facing any consequences from the administration or their teachers. In fact, many students were struck by their teachers’ flexibility and appreciative of their willingness to accommodate strikers who missed class. The Upper School Club Fair was initially planned for the same day, but even this was rescheduled to avoid conflict with the protest and ensure that students would not have to choose to attend one over the other.
Westridge students smile for a photo on their way to Pershing Square to participate in the Global Climate Strike. From left: Audrey M. ‘21, Coco G. ‘21, Sosi D. ‘21, and Liv B. ‘21.
While important for student safety and liability purposes, these forms also make it easier for students to participate without weighing their decision or evaluating their intention in taking part. If detention or a failed test grade were on the line, Ellie M. ‘20 admitted that protesting would have been a much more difficult decision.
“Part of the reason I went was because I really do care about environmental activism,” Ellie explained, “but also because I conveniently had two frees, so missing three hours of school would not impact my academics.” She continued, “I know we’re really lucky at Westridge, where most of our teachers supported us striking. However, if I were at another school where there would be serious academic consequences, … then I probably would have decided to stay in class.”
As students with easy access to public transportation, a major metropolitan city, and a supportive campus environment, our privilege shows itself in our activism. But so does our collective strength. “It’s not a pointless march,” Zora believes. “It’s to really show how important this issue is and to convene with all the other students our age and show how much this means to us.”