Published on December 9th, 2019 | by Aya de Leon0
The Busy Mom’s Guide to Organizing a Climate Strike at Your Kid’s Elementary School
I didn’t really have time to organize a climate strike, but I have decided to take Naomi Klein’s advice in my activism for the next year or so. As a working mom activist, she says, “Fuck work/life balance.” To the degree that we are in a climate emergency, I am accepting the reality that sleep will get disrupted, the house will be a mess, I’ll be late a lot and get things done half-assed, but my climate activism will take priority. I’m reading Klein’s book On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal.
I’ve also been really inspired by Mary DeMocker’s The Parents’ Guide to Climate Revolution: 100 Ways to Build a Fossil-Free Future, Raise Empowered Kids, and Still Get a Good Night’s Sleep. She’s so affirming and practical, forgiving us for all our parenting imperfections and encouraging changes that are within reach, with a range of options for families with different amounts of time and money available.
Here’s my working mom’s guide to organizing a #ClimateStrike event at my kid’s elementary school. Not that this would work everywhere. We are the Oakland Bay Area, a region that is very hospitable to activism. The school did a Pride Parade last year, where everyone wore rainbows. The principal is African American, young and hella woke.
Organizing was surprisingly easy. I’m sure it helped that I’m on the school PTA and have volunteered for a bunch of things, so people know me. But when I raised the idea, I could tell that folks already wanted to take action. It just took a little bit of boldness and initiative. Here’s what I did.
2. I asked the principal about climate action back in October. He referred me to the school’s Green Team.
3. It took a while for the Green Team to meet. When they did, they were focusing a lot on reducing/sorting school waste. I came late to the meeting (the last Friday before Thanksgiving break) and asked for the school to join the December 6th Climate Strike. Unsurprisingly, the Green Team was immediately in favor of the idea.
4. We came up with a really simple plan that wouldn’t inconvenience the teachers too much: a whole school walkout at 2:45, march around the yard a few times before dismissal at 3:10. Each class could make a sign. Kids were welcome to make/bring more signs. Families welcome to join.
5. Over Thanksgiving break, I realized that the whole approach of the climate movement is to support youth activism. So the Tuesday after Thanksgiving break (4 days before the strike), I came to the school to start a Climate Club at recess for 3rd-5thgrade students to join. The principal announced it just before recess. I expected my kid and a few friends. 40 KIDS CAME! They already had information and concerns about climate and were ready to take action. I was totally blindsided by the number of kids and didn’t exactly have a plan. But I’ve been a youth worker for many years, so I improvised. I asked them to share with a kid next to them one fact they knew about the climate crisis, to sign their names and their teachers’ names on a piece of paper and let them know that we’d be doing a walkout on Friday. Then I took questions.
The recess meeting was very brief, just to give them a heads up. I told them to think about what to chant while they were marching. They would need to bring chants for Thursday when we would practice during lunch. One girl asked, “Who will be leading the chants?” I said “You all!” She looked to be equally parts thrilled and terrified.
We ended the meeting by practicing. I asked who knew a chant. One girl said: “What do we want? Climate change! When do we want it? Now!” I had to work to keep from laughing. I made an edit to her chant: “What do we want? Climate JUSTICE! When do we want it? Now!” We chanted that one time, then closed the meeting.
The students shared many of their thoughts with me about climate. One outspoken fourth grader said: “adults are the past, kids are the future. We have to clean up the mess of climate change…You guys act so superior and so entitled but really you guys make big messes for the future to clean up.” These young people had a lot to say.
6. I bought two megaphones online for about $50. I got some markers and some 11×14 paper.
7. I forgot to announce the strike in the school newsletter, so I made flyers at my job to send home. (Not ecological. I’ll do better next time). My flyer used the image that Sunrise Bay Area sent out for the climate strike.
8. I asked another mom who is a journalist to write up a press release, which she did and sent it out to the media. I was also organizing with UC Berkeley’s Students for Climate Action on another project, but when I mentioned this one, they offered to come and bring bullhorns and signs.
9. The day before the strike, Climate Club met again during lunch in the auditorium. They had made different signs at home, including one girl made dozens of headbands with the earth on them. I wrote down all the chants they had brought. They made more signs. We took pictures with their signs. Note: because I didn’t have parent permission, I had them hold their signs in front of their faces so they wouldn’t be identifiable.
10. The day of the climate strike, I made more copies at work. I made copies of the chant sheet for every student at the school. I made bright orange copies with the names of the students who brought those chants, and I made an instruction list for the teachers. We passed out packets of chant sheets to teachers and one student announced the instructions over the school loudspeaker system.
12. Then the kids marched around the yard, did the chants, and held up their signs. The UC Berkeley students came with a big banner and an additional megaphone. All the kids wanted to lead chants. I said it was just for the kids who had brought chants to climate club, so they should be thinking about what chants they wanted to lead next time. It was chaotic and beautiful. The young people felt powerful. The adults felt inspired. The student climate activists got to connect to communities off campus.
And a new generation of climate activism leadership is being developed.
I will try to have Climate Club meet monthly, and we can continue to participate in Climate Strike actions in the future. My biggest mistake (as usual) was not asking for enough help and involving enough other adults. I can improvise my way through something like this, but that doesn’t mean it’s the optimal way to work. Still, it was a fine strategy to get things going in time for this first strike, and I can remedy that moving forward. Above all, it was a joy to be engaged in climate activism with my kid and my kid’s school. It’s like Mary DeMocker says, parents are good climate activists because we are already involved in organizing so many things in so many different spaces: PTA meetings, pot lucks, playdates, schedules, etc. We are naturally bringing people together all the time in the work of parenting. It isn’t that much of a stretch to add in a little activism.