Faculty, staff and students from the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences were among the thousands who attended a recent climate strike in Los Angeles.
The Sept. 20 rally was part of the Global Climate Strike, a worldwide event spearheaded by 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg.
Faye Wachs, a sociology professor, knew this moment would resonate with students as a memorable college experience outside of the standard way people interact and participate in issues.
“I always tell my students that posting things online, that sends a little bit of a message, but nothing sends a message like feet in the streets,” Wachs said, “the willingness to give up whatever else you were going to do that day and go out and let the government know that this is a very significant and meaningful issue.”
History Professor John Lloyd, chair of the Transportation Advisory Committee on campus, helped organize transportation and protest logistics for Cal Poly Pomona students interested in attending the Global Climate Strike. Lloyd saw this as an opportunity for students to contribute to a cause and be a part of the solution to climate change.
“The experience was rewarding on several levels. First, the size of the events held all over the world sent a powerful message and put the issue on the media’s radar screen,” Lloyd said, “Second, our students got to see firsthand the power of youth organizing an engagement in the real world, which deepens their educational experience. Finally, many of them took transit in LA for the first time, which not only provided them with a valuable learning experience but helped reinforce the cultural shift to sustainable transportation we’re working on here at Cal Poly Pomona.”
Jessie M. Vallejo, professor of ethnomusicology and director of mariachi ensembles and a longtime public transportation aficionado, volunteered to usher students from campus to the strike by way of bus and metro.
“When I was asked to lead people, who get uncomfortable on the bus, I thought it was a great opportunity to get rid of the fear people have of using public transportation and getting lost or stranded,” said Vallejo.
However, her view on the accessibility of transportation runs deeper than the strike.
“From my years teaching at Cal Poly Pomona, I found that the number of students that have to drop out because they don’t have reliable transportation is astounding,” Vallejo said “We have the chance to make a change, our campus is in a critical geographic location where we can make an impact on the entire region in terms of improving transit accessibility and cutting down on fossil fuels.”
Students were also excited to be a part of history and create a positive influence in the world. History student Nick Alanis was inspired to come to the strike because of those younger than him fighting for change.
“I came to the climate strike because of figures like Greta Thunberg,” Alanis said. “When you see that even the younger generation of children are trying to slap some sense into us, I think that’s the final straw. That’s where we have to draw the line and take action.”
But like many, Alanis is still trying to figure out how to navigate being eco-friendly, and not just in terms of transportation.
“There’s still so much to learn. I was debating what type of clothing to wear [to the strike] I have a few pieces of leather, such as a belt, but I’m trying to cut down on certain industries to dial back for climate change,” said Alanis.
The excitement of the strike was met with anticipation to continue the work toward climate solutions. Music industries studies student Roger Montero said before the strike that creating awareness through events like the Global Climate Strike is a step in the right direction.
The rush of the crowds and the energy left Montero feeling exhausted but excited for more moments like the Global Climate Strike.
“I enjoyed it. The march at the end was the best part because we got to stop traffic. I thought they would be angry because we were stopping traffic, but they were supportive and honking and raising their fists with us,” said Montero.
For visual communication design student, Melody Bando, this event came with a lot of first experiences; including being a protest participant and visiting Union Station.
“I’ve never done anything like this,” she said. I’ve never protested, I’ve just read articles, it’s something I agree with because the world is dying, and nobody cares.”
Walking with current and past students for this cause left Wachs inspired.
“The students have pushed me and challenged my thinking and pushed me to see issues in more depth and more clarity. That’s helped me grow as a scholar, and an activist,” said Wachs.
Wachs continued by sharing that her role as a teacher is to empower and impassion her student.
“The important thing is not to make change I want, because it’s not my generation anymore that’s going to get the future,” she said. “I’m living my future right now. The future belongs to the young.”
Students were joined at the strike by additional faculty members from the CLASS including, History Professor Robert Lewis, English and Modern Languages Professor Dewey Hall, Sociology Professor Mary Danico, and Geography and Anthropology Professor, James Blair.
Lloyd commends the students who attended the strike and are working towards a better tomorrow.
“Your energy, enthusiasm, and future are why this is all our fight,” he said.