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Feinstein: ‘You’re Not Leading, We’re Not Leaving’

Sunrise LA Youth Chapter demanded a meeting regarding the ‘Civilian Climate Corps’ — and received a small but unsatisfactory response.

Photo of young climate activists for Sunrise LA Youth hold up a orange and red banner that reads: "You're Not Leading, We're Not Leaving"
Photo by Skye Smith

On July 14, 2021, standing on the sidewalk of Santa Monica Boulevard with the sun beating down on them, a group of teens and twenty-somethings assembled around Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office, asking her to meet with them to discuss co-sponsoring the Civilian Climate Corps (CCC), a piece of legislation proposed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey. They’d been there for over 24 hours, and they weren’t going home anytime soon. In fact, they would end up staying for another 24 hours, sleeping on the sidewalks outside of the ornate office building.

Photo by Troy Turner

Simon Aron is 15 years old, and at first glance, he seems like your typical teenage boy. He radiates the endless energy of the high-schooler that he is, but the minute he speaks, it’s easy to forget how young he is. “Sometimes I have to make tough choices about whether I wanna go to a movie or organize an action, you know? And sometimes it’s really tough.” He, along with Nadia Bashier, who is also 15, organized the action at Feinstein’s office.

Nadia agreed. “It’s a lot of late-night zoom calls, putting things together on school nights and everything.” Nadia is the political team lead of the Sunrise LA Youth hub, and the founder of the Glendora chapter. How does she balance AP classes, political activism, and being a teenager? “Color-coding your Google calendar,” she laughed. “I will say, a lot of sleep was lost.” 

Nadia and Simon’s stories were echoed by the other organizers around them, some of whom were as young as 14. Their Senator, who was nowhere to be found, has been in office since 1992. That’s longer than any single organizer present has been alive, and over twice as long as some of the youngest.

These children, doing the work of world-weary adults, are members of the Sunrise Movement. Recognized recently for blockading the White House in Washington DC, The Sunrise Movement is a youth-led, cross-class, multigenerational movement fighting for climate justice. As a decentralized movement, Sunrise has hubs all over the US, two of which are here in LA.. The teenagers camping out in the street are the Sunrise LA Youth chapter, or, SLAY. They’re high-schoolers, ranging from ages 14 to 17, who have given up their summer breaks to demand a livable future. 

“We’re here right now, demanding just to speak to [Senator Feinstein],” Nadia said about the action. “We need the DNC to support our bold vision of a Civilian Climate Corps. … We want her to co-sponsor AOC and Ed Markey’s CCC bill, because that’s the one that will create 1.5 million jobs. We need her to stop supporting moderate climate action. We need to see bold, visionary climate action to combat the climate crisis.”

In theory, it shouldn’t be too daunting a request, especially for a woman whose job is to represent the people. Yet, the closest the group outside of her office has gotten to acknowledgement was from a staffer in Feinstein’s office, who attempted to encourage the group to disperse and — when that didn’t work — implied the activists wouldn’t be taken seriously due to their use of plastic water bottles to hydrate during their three-day stint on the street. 

“Feinstein has been in her office for [almost thirty] years, and every single summer California is devastated by wildfires, and our air is poisoned, and every single summer, Feinstein completely fails to act,” says Simon. Simon pointed out why they’re specifically lobbying Feinstein to step up: “[Alex] Padilla has a long way to go, but we’ve been pushing him, and he’s been pretty responsive to our demands. He has been co-sponsoring the [CCC].”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey speak on the Green New Deal in front of the US Capitol in February 2019

Senator Ed Markey and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced the Civilian Climate Corps for Jobs and Justice Act on April 20, 2021. It is the Green New Deal’s equivalent of the New Deal–era Civilian Conservation Corps. The bill is co-sponsored by Alex Padilla (California’s junior senator) and past presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

The CCC would provide 1.5 million Americans with federally funded jobs focused on addressing climate change and transitioning to a clean economy. Senator Sanders said in reference to the bill: “The Civilian Climate Corps for Jobs and Justice Act will create more than a million good-paying jobs, help us protect our natural resources, and move us forward in the fight against climate change.” 

The CCC faces a lack of bipartisan cooperation in Congress, which was what enabled Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps to come to fruition. And moderate representatives are unwilling to fully support climate action, despite the worsening climate crisis in the very states they’re representing. 

On July 8, 2021, after heatwave temperatures reached record highs in the Pacific Northwest, the Guardian reported at least 194 deaths. The week of July 18, hundreds of thousands of acres of the West Coast burned with no relief, and we recently watched as two different parts of the ocean caught fire. New York subway stations are submerged by flooding, and simultaneously, so are Louisiana, Alabama, Texas, and New Mexico. 

“Our environment shouldn’t be politicized,” Sara, 15, declared. It’s the first Sunrise LA Youth action they’ve participated in. Tara Goller, 16, is also at her first action, though she’s been involved in the movement for a year. She agreed with Sara. “The environment shouldn’t just be considered like ‘oh that’s more of like an issue that only leftist people or progressive people should deal with.’ It’s an issue that everyone should be aware of and fighting. It’s a human issue.” 

With the effect of climate change becoming more and more blatant, it should be simple for our politicians and representatives to prioritize bills and policies that address the crisis. And yet somehow, at a time in their lives when these children should be focusing on homework, and high school, and beginning their journeys into adulthood, these young activists are still forced to camp out on the streets of Los Angeles to be heard. 

In the days following the action, Senator Feinstein signed on to a letter, urging Biden to prioritize climate issues. While not a commitment, and certainly not enough, it is a testament to these incredibly passionate youth activists that she signed anything at all. Still, Feinstein has miles to go before she has done even the bare minimum for the young people she represents.

“It’s just angering,” Simon added. “[Feinstein is] so respected, and she has so much power to actually make my future better, and make our generation’s future better. And she’s not taking it.”

Skye Smith is an organizer with Sunrise Movement LA.

This piece is published under Knock LA’s Activism vertical. Posts under Activism reflect the views and policies of those organizations and authors, which may not be shared by Knock LA. Authors typically are not compensated for writing pieces shared under Activism.