Stay ambitious, be progressive, fight for justice
[Note: Elyanna Calle is a senior at Timberline HS and is a member of the organizing team for the Olympia sub-chapter of Washington Youth Climate Strike. Matt Crichton interviewed Elyanna by phone in late February.]
WIP: Elyanna, what got you started doing climate activism?
EC: I was 13 when I decided to go vegan. I care for animals, care about my health, and saw the truth of what was happening in our culture. I can’t unsee that. I made the decision to not contribute to that.
With this new awareness, I started my journey into social justice and doing something about the world and not staying complacent. Once I made that choice, I got involved with animal rights activism. I moved to Olympia last January and saw an opportunity to start organizing for Washington Youth Climate Strike.
WIP: When did climate strikes start and who participates in them?
EC: The first US Climate Strike was in March 2019 and the first in Olympia on September 20, 2019. Students from area high schools rallied for the climate and demanded action.
WIP: What is your strategy?
EC: To keep our efforts youth-led and youth-focused and do our best to mobilize youth in the area. We also want adult allies, but we keep the focus on youth because we are the future. We will target people – politicians — who have the power to make big changes. We want to stay ambitious, be progressive, and fight for intersectional climate justice.
WIP: Are Climate Strike rallies linked and building toward something?
EC: The strategy of Washington Youth Climate Strike is to take escalated action. Right now, we are in the phase of striking, and then it will move toward direct action, civil disobedience. For now, we are in the mobilizing and firing-people-up mode. I can’t say very much about events in the future.
These strikes are leading towards something. The scheduled event for Earth Day (April 22) has been cancelled because of the health emergency, but people should follow @climatestrikewa on Instagram to see e-vents online and stay updated.
WIP: Describe a recent organizing success.
EC: The September 20 Climate Strike rally was a big learning curve for me. I was running around and super stressed out, trying to get everything done. At one point during the day, I stopped dead in my tracks and saw about 200 students from Nova Middle School marching into the Capital, chanting with signs.
I started to tear up, and it hit me that all the work I have been doing had made an impact. If nothing else happened, those students are taking action and being inspired. That was a big success to me personally, seeing young people getting involved. Once you start with activism, you can’t stop because that becomes your mindset.
WIP: In your view, how are adults doing in protecting our planet?
EC: A lot of times youth encounter adults who want to, consciously or unconsciously, take over the work we are trying to do. More often though, I’ve encountered adults who are supportive allies, knowing their generation continued the problem. Now they are willing to support the generation that is fixing the problem. I’ve encountered many adults who underestimate the ability of youth. It’s our time now to organize and to take action. It’s up to us, so we’re going to make those decisions.
WIP: What effective ways have you found to engage the younger generation — for example those who play video games and ignore what’s happening to their world?
EC: I’m still figuring that out. Even though our generation is supposed to be pumped up and ready to take action, a majority want to play video games rather than changing the world. Oftentimes I shoot for the low hanging fruit – people who care and are just waiting for an opportunity to show it. You can’t force someone to care. I’d rather spend my time helping those who already care. In time there will be more of the low hanging fruit that ripens.
WIP: What advice would you give young climate activists who might feel overwhelmed?
EC: Find one organization or event that you can be involved in and grow yourself into so that you can localize the change you’re trying to make. Find that one place or action you can take and once you accomplish that, all the fear and anxiety melts away because you realize your power to make change. Take action! Assess your priorities, and don’t say yes to everything.
WIP: What sustains you as you struggle against forces that don’t want to listen or cooperate?
EC: In terms of sustainable activism, I was completely burned out between the Sept 20 and Dec 6 strike. I wanted to stop and not do another one. I thought back to what initially motivated me. I have two little brothers who are three and four. When I want to stop, I think about how they are who I’m fighting for. They need to have the same opportunities in ten years as I do. They can’t fight for that right now. Once I have that in my mind, I honestly could not care less what uncooperative people say.
WIP: Where do you hope to take your experience in the future?
EC: I’ve learned so many invaluable lessons from organizing these events and so many leadership skills which will help me be successful in whatever I choose to do. I hope to go into journalism, and that aligns with what I’m doing now. Once I get to Texas (for college), I’m sure I will find opportunities to use and progress my skills, specifically regarding the upcoming presidential election.
WIP: What is the best way adults can support Youth Climate Strike?
EC: Adults can show up at events and bring everyone they know. Also, if adults have money they would like to donate: linktr.ee/climatestrikewa.
WIP: How is your organization structured?
EC: I’m on the organizing team with a lot of autonomy to structure the effort. Right now, I’m the city lead, and we have a core organizing team of three to four people. We also have school-based ambassadors who advertise and mobilize students at their school. The number of school ambassadors varies depending on who is reliable and who has the time to commit. Right now, there are ambassadors at five different schools–the major high schools in the Olympia area.
WIP: What gives you hope for the future?
EC: Seeing all the work that has been done gives me hope. When I think that nobody cares, I have to remind myself of all the amazing activists I have met and the ones I see on social media that will be fighting for this planet for many years to come. We are in good hands because there are always going to be big groups of people fighting for what’s right, and that gives me hope.
Matt Crichton is a contributing writer for Works in Progress.