For decades, Long Beach’s Martin Luther King Park has played host to countless kids from the East Side and elsewhere across the city. Whether they were headed to the pool or out playing football, on any given Saturday one would expect to see dozens of local kids enjoying a day at the park.
But on a recent Saturday morning, a group of passionate Long Beach students went to King Park not for leisure, but to make their voices heard. The student-run Long Beach Green Schools Campaign recently held a Youth Climate Rally, seeking community support for their initiative urging the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) to commit to 100 percent clean, renewable energy in its schools.
The Long Beach Green Schools campaign was founded in August 2020 by a group of Long Beach Poly High School students and has grown over the past 14 months to include students from Millikan, Lakewood and CAMS high schools, plus middle school representatives from Hughes, Keller, and Rogers. The Youth Climate Rally was attended by more than 100 students, including the Poly Jazz Band and cheer team.
The Green Schools Campaign is urging the school district to move away from fossil fuels as a source of electricity by 2030 and to have clean, renewable energy in all sectors (including HVAC, cooking and transportation) by 2040. Students spoke to the shared responsibility in creating lasting change, and reiterated the sense of urgency in making this transition.
“We as a community must do better if we want to better the world,” said Millikan High senior Nikita Burger. “In order to make it last, initiative must be taken at both an individual and administrative level.”
Ruthann Heis is a freshman at Long Beach Poly who recalled her time as a middle school student in West Long Beach, assisting classmates who were struggling to breathe at school.
“I also experienced how bad the air quality was, often we couldn’t have recess,” Heis recalled. “We were advised to stay inside. The air was unhealthy for us to breathe.”
The rally was also attended by some local officials: LBUSD School Board members Megan Kerr and Doug Otto, Councilmember Al Austin, and representatives from the offices of councilmembers Rex Richardson, Suzie Price, and Mary Zendejas.
Fatima Iqbal-Zubair, a candidate for the District 64 California State Assembly seat, was among the guest speakers at the event. She has been endorsed by the climate-focused Sunrise Movement LA and was recently elected the Southern California Vice-Chair of the California Democratic Party’s Progressive Caucus.
“The truth is, we don’t have to live like this. We can be change-makers, we can say ‘No, this is enough’, and we can talk about a just transition,” said Iqbal-Zubair. “The time is now to transition away from fossil fuels through a green economy. The time is now to stand with the next generation who are doing the right thing. If we care about our future, if we care about doing the right thing, the time is not tomorrow, it’s not a week from now, a month from now, the time is now.”
Other climate activists addressed the gathered crowd, and pointed to recent decisions by the Los Angeles Unified School District, California State University, Long Beach and the UC system to commit to clean energy as reasons for the LBUSD to follow suit.
The Youth Climate Rally was just the latest event in an ongoing Green Schools Campaign, which has already scored meetings with school board members and LBUSD Superintendent, Dr. Jill Baker. The organization has also put together an online petition with over 1,000 signatures, urging the LBUSD to transition off of fossil fuels.
Long Beach Green Schools Campaign president and founder Diana Michaelson concluded the rally before leading a group of students on a march around the neighborhood. Dozens of students, many wearing green t-shirts and carrying signs with messages like “Fight Climate Change” and “Solar 4 LBUSD”, walked down Orange Ave. along the edge of King Park, hoping to influence a new, cleaner world for the next generation of Long Beach students.