With youth at the forefront, a group of 60 climate activists rallied in front of Palo Alto City Hall Friday evening, Sept. 23, to demand that the city's elected officials take urgent action to address the global climate crisis.
Fridays for Future Palo Alto, Sunrise Silicon Valley and the Palo Alto Student Climate Coalition organized the event as part of the Global Climate Strike, an annual event launched by Greta Thunberg.
The Raging Grannies Action League kicked off the rally with a butterfly dance.
"We don't want to leave this earth in a bad shape, but it's heading that way," said Ruth Robertson, 70, who dressed as a butterfly to emphasize the power of transformational change.
Collective political action was the theme of the night with speeches calling for council members to pass the city's Sustainability and Climate Action Plan (S/CAP).
"We're demanding that they actually pass the plan and start moving forward rather than just talking about it because we've been talking about it for a couple of years," said event organizer Matt Schlegel.
The S/CAP has a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2030. The city council plans to discuss S/CAP on Sept. 27 and vote on it on Oct. 3.
Rally organizers also demanded that the city launch its heat pump water heater (HPWH) program to replace natural gas water heaters.
Youth activist Emilie Lespinasse, 17, discussed the importance of electric HPWHs to help Palo Alto reach a zero-carbon footprint. But she also said that the city needed to implement the program equitably so all residents could benefit from it.
"That’s why we’re here," Lespinasse said. "We're literally standing in front of City Hall to get their attention."
Youth organizer Sanjana Sathishkumar, 17, raised a similar point.
"Climate justice is social justice," she said. "And we need to pressure our politicians to address it."
Heeding the call, Mayor Patrick Burt attended the rally.
"I think it's really important that we support and listen to our climate youth activists," he said. "We need to actually engage with them and listen to them and have them have a strong voice in our actions. We need them to push us to go even further."
When probed how this might occur, Burt referred to the S/CAP recommendations.
Sathishkumar meanwhile encouraged the audience to not give up hope or feel guilty about the climate crisis.
"The masses of people will not stand by while a few privileged portions of the population and corporate shareholders make our air unbreathable and our land unlivable. We will fight back," she said to enthusiastic applause.
Picking up placards and chanting slogans like, "No more coal, no more oil, keep our carbon in the soil," the crowd filed onto the streets in a protest march that looped through downtown Palo Alto. Cars honked in support while bystanders watched from the sidewalks.
"I can see that people are coming out to make noise and be seen for an important cause," said Loren Pallera, 41, who was out shopping with her 15-year-old daughter.
Jo Gardias, 21, a climate legislative aide, offered a message of hope to the crowd, saying that what climate activists were doing today resonated beyond the streets of Palo Alto.
"In California, we're uniquely positioned to where our personal local actions actually become models for other cities, for state policies and federal policies," she said. "So, what you're doing here, right now, it's so important that we're doing it precisely, accurately and quickly because we're showing that it can be done."