Climate of change
“Environmental movement of Santa Barbara, where you at?” asked Ana Rosa Rizo-Centino, an organizer from Food and Water Action.
From the raucous cheers she got in response, it was clear they were all in De la Guerra Plaza.
Once again, Santa Barbara County residents gathered outside City Hall on Friday to march and demand solutions for climate change as part of the global Climate Strike week of action.
The turnout was even more impressive than the previous Friday, when hundreds of students from around the county kicked off the week of climate action. This time, the crowd size swelled to well over 1,000 as it marched from De la Guerra Plaza down to Pershing Park, ending the event in a massive dance circle.
Speakers at the event challenged the crowd to maintain Santa Barbara’s legacy of environmentalism and recognize the impact that climate change has already had on our community, like the Thomas Fire and Montecito mudslides.
“That kind of an extreme precipitation event where half an inch of rain falls in five minutes is not normal. That is climate change and we all need to recognize that it’s already in our backyard,” said Leah Stokes, a professor of political science at UCSB.
“Now the good news is that we know from research that victims can become politically active. So ask yourself, are you a victim of climate change? Has this already touched your life, and if so, what are you going to do to make sure it doesn’t hurt other people?”
More than 30 organizations participated in the event, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Sunrise Movement Santa Barbara, the League of Women Voters Santa Barbara, and Los Padres Forest Watch.
During speeches given by activists, organizers, and concerned citizens, the crowd flashed their signs with slogans like “Nothing matters if there is no planet,” “Wake up and smell the methane” and “Listen to Greta,” a reference to the 16-year old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg who has recently become a leading voice in environmental activism.
Greta’s rise in popularity reflects a growing youth movement within climate activism that was on display at Friday’s event in Santa Barbara. The crowd was old and young. Gray-haired locals who have been a part of the environmental movement since the 1960s stood side by side with college students, high schoolers, and even fourth graders who have taken up the cause of climate action.
Eric Cardenas of LOACOM, a local marketing firm, even brought his baby onto stage to address the crowd.
“This is his first rally, his first climate rally, and I really wish he didn’t have to be here,” Mr. Cardenas said. “I really wish we didn’t have to be here but we do. This is his movement. This is our movement.”
Mr. Cardenas went on to thank the young members of the crowd for reinspiring the climate action movement in a way that he said he and older generations have failed to do.
“This is happening globally and finally there’s a spark which the adults have taken heed to and are following the lead of youth leadership who has done this with passion, love, heart, grit, you name it. They’re on the front lines and thank goodness they’re here because they arrived in the nick of time.”
The youth movement wasn’t just represented in the crowd, as several of the speakers were still in high school and college. The youngest of the day was the daughter of the Rev. Julia Hamilton of the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara.
The event was a call to action, and speakers encouraged the crowd to get involved to ban fracking, develop responsible transportation systems, and stop offshore drilling.
Jonathan Abboud, a trustee for Santa Barbara City College, read out Gov. Gavin Newsom’s number and urged Santa Barbara County residents to call his office to demand bold action on climate change. He was quickly called back on stage to read the number again and onlookers frantically jotted it down, committed to doing their part.
Time and again speakers said the best action to take is to vote. Campaign signs and pins for Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were scattered around the plaza and the 2020 presidential election was a hot topic, but speakers also reminded the crowd that local elections are just as, if not more, important.
The event was attended by Mayor Cathy Murillo, members of the Santa Barbara City Council, and county supervisors. District 1 Supervisor Das Williams and District 3 Supervisor Joan Hartmann, who are up for re-election in November 2020, both spoke and reconfirmed their commitment to climate action.
“The message that I’m trying to tell you all today is not that there is no hope. In fact, there is so much hope. Look around you. Look around you! There are so many people gathered here today and I thank you from my heart, and you, thank yourselves,” said Benny Drescher, founder of Extinction Rebellion Santa Barbara.