Hundreds of students from Oakland and across the Bay Area rallied and marched through downtown Oakland on Friday to demand climate justice and to oppose plans to build a coal export terminal in West Oakland.
The action was organized by Youth vs. Apocalypse, a youth-led organization first established in Oakland to oppose the coal terminal. The group went viral in 2019 when they and members of the Sunrise Movement confronted Senator Dianne Feinstein to encourage her to support the Green New Deal, a proposal to invest in green energy and technologies and divest from fossil fuels. Friday’s march coincided with other climate strike actions across the globe during an international day of protest. Organizers of the march in Oakland connected the climate crisis to other issues.
“We’re saying to keep coal out of Oakland, but we’re also saying no to all forms of violence, because we recognize that Oakland is affected with police violence, gun violence, environmental violence, housing violence, migrant violence, and so many different forms of violence that the climate crisis is exacerbating,” said Aniya Butler, the lead organizer and a spoken word poet and junior at Oakland Charter High School.
The West Oakland coal terminal was first proposed in 2015 by local developer Phil Tagami. Tagami and a hedge fund that owns the rights to operate the terminal are still pursuing the project while suing the city, which attempted to ban coal transport and storage within city limits. Opponents say that dust blowing off trains bringing coal to the terminal would worsen air pollution in neighborhoods that already experience disproportionate levels of asthma and other health problems.
Friday’s protest began at Frank Ogawa Plaza with chants led by students, followed by a march down Broadway to the Oakland Police Department headquarters on Seventh Street, where students took a knee for a moment of silence in memory of those who’ve been harmed by police brutality. Once they returned to the plaza, students hosted drum and dance workshops.
While some high schoolers chose to skip class to attend the march, some teachers and schools brought their students. A class of fifth graders from Manzanita SEED Elementary provided a musical backdrop, beating drums and shaking maracas .
“They’re the heartbeat of the march, leading our youth,” said teacher Mayra Alvarado. “We did this last year and I noticed how proud they felt about themselves around all these high school students.”
For Genesis Landrum, a junior at Castlemont High School, Friday’s march was her first protest action. She led the march carrying a banner painted with the phrase, “No to coal, yes to life.”
“It’s very cool to stand up for environmental justice and making sure that coal isn’t making other people sick, and it’s good to just be around a lot of like-minded people who believe in the same thing,” said Landrum, 15.
Next to Genesis was 16-year-old Edwin Calmo, a junior at Skyline High School. Calmo wanted to support Friday’s action to protect those with asthma or other respiratory conditions.
“I know a lot of people that have asthma, so this is very effective towards them,” Calmo said. “As a group, we can accomplish something more than one or two people could.”
Butler added that when she got involved with Youth vs. Apocalypse she learned how climate change impacts people and communities as well as wildlife.
“When I first learned about climate change, it was brought to me as an issue that only impacted polar bears and turtles, which of course, you want to save those lives,” Aniya said. “But at the same time, I wanted my energy to be contributed to saving my people. So when I joined YVA, I learned about environmental racism and how the climate crisis exacerbates all of the issues that the Black community and so many other frontline communities experience daily.”