Running a Revolution

BTS of the Climate Strike

Sammy Biglin, Staff Writer

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September 20th, 2019 found City Hall far busier than usual. That was the day of the Philly Youth Climate Strike—the day that thousands of teens took to the streets to demand change in our environmental legislation and to fight for a better tomorrow.

Many believe that strikes just happen. Something gets posted on Instagram and people arrive in the streets, ready for political action. But in reality, there are so many moving parts in executing a strike. The Harriton Banner spoke to Harriton Junior Enya Xiang, a leader of the Philly Youth Climate Strike (PYCS) organization.

HB: Can you explain the planning and the process of the climate strike?

E: This time I mainly just did press stuff. For our first strike, it was just me and a couple teenagers, and we honestly had no idea what to do. We had to do all this official stuff, like sending out press releases and getting a demonstration permit from the local government of Philadelphia. And then a media advisory.

HB: What surprised you the most about the behind the scenes of the climate march?

E: It was definitely a lot more work than I thought it would be. When you think of a strike, you think, “oh people just don’t go to school and then you meet somewhere.” But then there’s setting a place, figuring out publicity and planning everything out.

A lot of what I didn’t realize was activism was actually getting them to do something about the issues they care about.

For a lot of kids who go to Harriton, it’s a very academic school and they didn’t want to miss class. But we really do need their voices at the strike and having the forethought to miss one day or school to be able to save our planet is something some people don’t even consider.

HB: What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of carrying out a strike?

E: Well it’s a lot of email and sounding professional to adults, which is definitely not the fun part. Also, having to do climate strike stuff on top of your ordinary life is a lot. After I’m done with my homework it’s already late and then I have strike stuff and sometimes it’s really tiring.

It’s for a good cause though. My favorite part is meeting all the different types of people who care, and also working with adults who don’t look down on you, that are glad that you’re being active and standing up for this.

HB: You said the organization was started by a couple of teenagers. How did that really begin? How did you meet these people?

E: I do a program at the Penn Museum; it’s an internship type thing. There I met Sabirah, who goes to the academy of Colombo (we apparently went to the same kindergarten). She texted me one day and said, “do you want to help me plan this climate strike?”

Greta Thunberg at the time was a big thing in the news, so we felt inspired. I just agreed and she, three other people, and I planned the original strike back in March.

HB: What’s the “vibe” when you’re working on the strike now?

E: We have a weekly meeting over the phone or Skype, and the week before the strike we all meet in Philly. I consider the people both friends and people I work with. When you’re at work or at school you’re just doing academic stuff to get by, but there we all share this goal of helping and demanding the government to change things and that brings us closer.

 HB: What do you think is an important trait in an activist?

E: This is going to sound cliché, but I think being open minded because, well, we know we have a strong stance on climate change; that’s kind of what we do, and a lot of people disagree with this sort of severity. I have a friend that hates the Green New Deal and thinks that it’s the stupidest thing, and just being able to have a conversation about it was way better than a shouting match.

And along with being open minded, being determined, I guess. Knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing, for any kind of activism you do. When people who ask you why you do it, you need to be able to provide a concrete answer because it’s the reasoning behind what you do that helps change their mind.

HB: How would you recommend people get involved?

E: Anyone at Harriton can come to me if they’re interested. Most of our stuff, promoting our work is a LOT of social media. You can DM our account or email us, and we can give you materials.

HB: How can people outside of your organization get involved?           

E: Our organization is not focused on individual actions. We want a systematic change. But you can always change little things in your habit. I’m pescatarian [a person who does not eat meat but does eat fish], so that cuts down on emission just because meat produces a lot of emissions.

I take the bus and the train when I can, but what I think a lot of people don’t like about the environmental movement is that people target specific things, saying, “You shouldn’t use this or you should eat that, and get rid of your straws.” But that isn’t the biggest deal. Just making the green life that’s right for you is what matters.

HB: How can we contact you or the organization?

E: My email is [email protected] , the organization’s email is [email protected] and please follow us on Instagram at @climatestrikepa.

City Hall is usually a busy place: commuters coming to and from the office, children playing in the fountains or enjoying the green, and tourists buying street food and reading the plaques on the historic statues. But what Enya is doing creates a kind of busy that seems to have a a little more urgency.

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