“Where would you start if you wanted to change the world?”

Voices amplified by bullhorns, organizers repeated this question as they gathered at UC Santa Cruz’s main entrance. Holding signs and bottles of water, they marched to San Lorenzo Park. 

About 50 demonstrators convened at the base of campus on April 21 for the 2023 Earth Day School Walkout Strike. The crowd marched from UCSC to San Lorenzo Park, led by local climate groups Youth for Climate Justice (Y4CJ) and UCSC’s Climate Coalition. 

Y4CJ and the Climate Coalition stopped at Mission Hill Middle School and Santa Cruz High School, urging students there to join the walkout in support of their demands. Mostly middle school students joined the demonstration, with a few high school students walking out as well. By the end of the march, there were around 100 climate strikers in the crowd.

Upon arrival at Santa Cruz High School, faculty blocked student protesters from stepping onto school property. Still, protesters convinced several students to walkout and join them. Photo by Abe Munoz.

Demands included the declaration of a countywide state of climate emergency, increased transparency of environmental action plans, the expansion of environmental justice education, and improved support for impacted communities.

“We’re calling on our politicians to make aggressive climate action…Join your local climate action groups,” said Nicole Macgaffey, a second year UCSC student and Climate Coalition organizer. “That’s a way we can unite the community, make change.”

The Climate Coalition also encouraged UCSC and Santa Cruz community members to provide feedback on the UC’s new Climate Policy draft. The draft aims to move all UC campuses off of fossil fuels by 2045, but the Coalition supports a more ambitious 2030 deadline.

During a speech to the crowd at the base of campus, Gwen Parden, another Climate Coalition organizer, asked participants to sign a petition asking the Chancellor’s committee for Strategic Planning on Climate Change (SPCC) to add more specific language to their campus-wide planning goals. 

The Coalition wants UCSC to amend these goals to ban fossil fuel funding of faculty research and university projects, stop banking with companies who fund the fossil fuel industry, expand climate education on campus, and create a more sustainable and predictable transportation system. 

The Chancellor is currently seeking community involvement on a Strategic Plan to promote UCSC’s student success, campus efficiency, and research impact. The SPCC is one of five strategic planning committees, and it’s responsible for determining the campus’ goals for Climate Change, Sustainability, and Resilience over the next 10 years.

“Our goal for the walkout was to demonstrate to both [of the] the politicians, local politicians here in Santa Cruz and also the administration at both UCSC and the UC system […] that students and youth really do care about the climate crisis that’s happening,” Macgaffey said.

Photo by Abe Munoz.

At 2:20 p.m., demonstrators stopped on the Soquel Avenue Bridge and laid down in the street as part of an eight-minute “die-in”. They laid motionless for the same number of minutes as there are years left until global warming’s effects will be irreversible, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Eight years. Silence washed over the crowd, the impending point of no return hanging heavy in the air. 

Santa Cruz High School student and Youth for Climate Justice (Y4CJ) leader, Tamarah Minami, wanted the “die-in” to remind students of the urgent need to talk about climate change amongst themselves and with their local community. 

This urgency is compounded in communities of color. 

As climate change has increased the frequency of extreme weather patterns, rent has also skyrocketed, displacing communities of color to a disproportionate degree. According to the American Public Health Association (APHA), communities and people of color have a higher likelihood of experiencing pre-existing illnesses, health conditions and poor living conditions. 

Leslie Marquez, a third year UCSC student and the Ourstorian of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlán (MEChA) hopes more students of color will show up to events like this in the future.  

“[Students of color] have so many other things to worry about,” Marquez said. “We don’t have these conversations, but we have to show up because we need more representation.”

Coalition organizers continued to emphasize environmental justice as they addressed the crowd gathered at the end-of-march celebration at San Lorenzo Park. 

There, demonstrators could finally relax. They mingled at information booths from Y4CJ, Santa Cruz County’s Friends of Rail and Trail as well as ate hot meals cooked by Eat For The Earth before the concluding speeches and performances. 

“I think, especially around Earth Day, we have so many events, and a lot of it [is] greenwashing,” said Maya Caminada. We really just wanted it to be a truthful telling of what’s going on.” Caminada is a fourth-year UCSC student, a founder of the Climate Coalition, and Member for the Strategic Planning Committee for the Chancellor’s Climate Resilience Group (SPCC). 

Caminada said the key is to continue the conversation with local and organizational leaders while creating more fun and joyful events. Bringing people together is important, since climate information can often feel isolating and full of anxiety. 

“I always want more people involved,” Caminada said. “The more people involved, that’s more power to us all to change the standards.” 

As demonstrators ended their day, speakers emphasized the importance of making it a daily habit to take a stand against climate change. 

“Today’s Earth Day is not the only day that we have to take action,” said Macgaffey. “Action needs to happen every day.”