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“It’s Our Future”: Meet the Youth Activists Behind Fridays for Future Movements in Uganda and Chile

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In Spain, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has arrived in Madrid to take part in today’s strike, as well as a major march set for 6 p.m. local time. Greta began the climate strike movement last year when she started skipping school every Friday to stand in front of the Swedish parliament, demanding action to prevent catastrophic climate change. Her protest spread, quickly going global. We speak with two youth climate strikers: Hilda Flavia Nakabuye is the founder of Fridays for Future Uganda, and Angela Valenzuela is a coordinator with Fridays for Future in Chile, where this year’s U.N. climate summit had been scheduled, but massive protests against neoliberalism forced the Chilean government to cancel the talks.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting live from Madrid, Spain, as the second week of the U.N. climate summit begins. In September, Madrid City Hall announced it will roll back plans to restrict traffic in the city’s central low-emissions zone amid protests from a conservative and center-right coalition. The initial plan, known as Madrid Central, was introduced by the former leftist Mayor Manuela Carmena.

We walked over to the social media summit, that we are here in today, to meet with people who are going to be out on the streets in just a matter of a few hours, as thousands of people are planning this first major march in Madrid around the U.N. climate summit. That’s right, students across the globe have been walking out of classes today in another round of climate strikes.

Here in Spain, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has arrived in Madrid to take part in today’s strike, as well as a major march set for 6 p.m. local time. Greta began the climate strike movement last year when she started skipping school every Friday to stand in front of the Swedish parliament, demanding action to prevent catastrophic climate change. Her protest spread, quickly going global. Greta was mobbed by reporters earlier today as she arrived in Madrid on a train from Portugal. On Tuesday, Greta arrived in Lisbon, Portugal, after traveling for three weeks across the Atlantic in a 48-foot catamaran, refusing to fly because of the high carbon footprint of air travel.

So we’re joined now by two youth climate strikers. Hilda Flavia Nakabuye is the founder of Fridays for Future Uganda, and Angela Valenzuela is a coordinator with Fridays for Future in Chile, where this year’s U.N. climate summit was scheduled to be, until mass protests against neoliberalism forced the Chilean government to cancel the talks.

Hilda and Angela, we welcome you to Democracy Now! Hilda, you just came from meeting with Greta Thunberg?

HILDA FLAVIA NAKABUYE: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And you have come all the way from Uganda for this. Talk about Fridays for Future Uganda and why this is such an important issue to you.

HILDA FLAVIA NAKABUYE: Fridays for Future in Uganda started in February. And we were just two strikers, but now it’s a very big movement. We have around 25,000 people striking for the global climate strikes. And it is a very important issue for us, because it’s us against our future. We either do something now or we don’t have a future.

AMY GOODMAN: So, why — talk about the effects of the climate crisis in Uganda.

HILDA FLAVIA NAKABUYE: The effects of the climate crisis in Uganda are visible, and we face that every day. We have so much floods that are killing people. Recently, there were some heavy rainfalls, and very many people died because of that. There has been rising temperatures in the past few months in Uganda that dried people’s plantations, because agriculture is the backbone of Uganda and people were going hungry.

AMY GOODMAN: Who are the biggest contributors to the climate crisis, do you think, in Uganda? And who are you trying to hold accountable there? And is it inside the country or elsewhere?

HILDA FLAVIA NAKABUYE: I think it is both in and outside. We, as people in Uganda, should be responsible for our actions and activities, because some of the activities that are done in Uganda also contribute to the effects of climate change. We are aware that most of the effects of the climate change are from other European countries, because we contribute very little percentage to the effects. But I think it’s also our responsibility as people in Uganda to take on the action.

AMY GOODMAN: Angela, you’ve just come from Chile. Now, it’s so interesting, as this march is about to take place here in Spain, there’s going to be a simultaneous march in Chile. So, you were going to host the U.N. climate summit there, but then the protests led to its cancellation. Talk about the significance of this.

ANGELA VALENZUELA: Well, so, as Fridays for Future, as well, in Chile, we have been mobilizing for the whole year and hoping that people in Chile will wake up. And it’s very inspiring to see like the whole movement that has started since October for the social crisis. And people woke up, and that’s very inspiring. But at the same time, it’s terrifying to see how we are getting all the repression from the state and human rights violations that are happening until today.

So, I think, partly, it was like a very strategic move to change the COP from Santiago to Madrid, because since it was suspended in Chile, the international mainstream media is not really talking about Chile anymore. And now it’s been shocking for me to participate at COP and going inside and seeing all the greenwashing that I already knew that it was going to happen, but now it’s also about human rights. And the speech that Sebastián Piñera sent in a video for the first day at COP was terrible. He was saying that he —

AMY GOODMAN: The Chilean president, Piñera, who canceled the COP in Chile.

ANGELA VALENZUELA: Yes, exactly. And I think if COP was going to take place in Santiago, he was forced to listen to people and to hear their demands and try to solve the situation in a more democratic way. But he was not willing to do that. That’s clear. And that’s what’s saddening. But at the same time, I feel that this needed to happen in Chile. And it’s really inspiring to see all people very empowered. And now we have the chance to write a new constitution, from zero, to get rid of Pinochet’s constitution. So that’s very meaningful, and we are achieving more than we thought we could like maybe three months ago.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you sorry he canceled the COP? Were you shocked when he announced it? I mean, you had hundreds of thousands of people in the streets protesting austerity, protesting inequality. He canceled both the APEC summit — the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit – and the COP.

ANGELA VALENZUELA: I have mixed feelings. I still don’t have like one position, because, like, from one side, it’s like you see how people is empowered, and they can like take down two massive projects that the government had, and had been planning for a long time, that were very meaningful. So people felt very, like, empowered that they could have that impact.

At the other side, like, I come from the social — like, the environmental movement. So we had been pushing for this awareness and this movement for the whole year. So it was a shock. And it was — we all felt like this bad impression of the decision, understanding that Sebastián, our president, was not willing to listen to people and to have an open dialogue, because COP, hopefully, had like the opportunity to open a different space, like the Social Summit that is still happening in Santiago and so many other places.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, explain that, because here, the U.N. climate summit, the Social Summit for the Climate, is starting tomorrow. You’re also having an alternative climate summit in Chile anyway, right?

ANGELA VALENZUELA: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: In Santiago.

ANGELA VALENZUELA: Yeah. And, like, now we are responding to the social context. So, for example, it was supposed to be focused on the climate crisis, but we are embracing everything that’s been the debate for the last two months in Chile. So, now that we have the chance for writing a new constitution and voting for it in April, now this climate summit is also like a space for debate on how to include a shift in our paradigm in this new constitution and how like the social demands that is like basic access to education, healthcare, pension systems, that dignify people’s life, and minimum wage — those very basic human rights can be sustained by a paradigm shift and like a new model that is not pushing people to its limits, and also it’s leading us to a climate breakdown.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the links between climate catastrophe and human rights and human rights violations in Chile — for example, the indigenous Mapuche people — and what people are facing.

ANGELA VALENZUELA: Yeah. Can you repeat the question?

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the connection between the climate catastrophe that we are all facing, the climate crisis, and human rights violations in Chile, particularly around the rights, for example, of indigenous people like the Mapuche.

ANGELA VALENZUELA: Yeah. Well, in Chile, the Mapuche, like even — like, for centuries, have been facing the oppression of the state and human rights violations. And I think we have to learn from them in order to cope with the climate crisis. They have a different paradigm. They have answers that we need to look at and respect. And if you see in the protests, what’s been superinteresting is that there are many flags with indigenous — like Mapuche flag, more than Chilean flags. So that’s a sign that we need to redefine our culture. And we are like looking back into our roots for answers. So that’s superinspiring.

And then I wanted also to touch on like the human rights violations that are tied with the climate crisis and the fossil fuel industry, because something that’s very huge in Chile is that we have sacrifice zones. So, these are communities that are forced to live right next to coal plants. And this is one of the issues that we have been bringing throughout the year with the social and environmental movements. And we are demanding that they close down coal plants by 2030, all 28 coal plants.

And I guess it’s just important to call attention that now, for example, NG, that is one of the funders of COP25, is now retracting from investing into renewable energy and the plan for decarbonizing our energy system, like justifying itself that now the economic crisis in Chile is coming, etc., so…

AMY GOODMAN: In a moment, I want to talk to you about your connecting activism with the arts. But, Hilda, I want to go to you in Uganda. If you can talk about some of your family background that inspired you to become a climate activist?

HILDA FLAVIA NAKABUYE: That is personal. But we, as my family in Uganda, were facing effects of climate change back then when I was still young. And we didn’t know that what we were facing were the effects of climate change. And many people didn’t know about that. And some people in Uganda still do not know that the effects they are facing are because of climate change, because basically climate change is not really known in Uganda, as it’s not taught in schools. So, we had a big plantation in the village. And me and my family used to travel to the village for parties and like Christmas season. So, there was a lot of food then. But then, after some time, it kept on changing. The plantation started drying up. Wells —

AMY GOODMAN: Your grandmother was a farmer?

HILDA FLAVIA NAKABUYE: Yes, and my grandfather. So, we had animals, as well, in the village. But when these effects of climate change started showing up, our lives became a bit very hard, because we lacked food to eat. Plantations were washed away by the heavy rains. And sometimes we had like very little rainfall and a lot of sun. Temperatures were really increasing, so our wells started to dry up, so we couldn’t get water and pasture for the animals to feed.

So, my grandparents sold off most of the land and part of the animals, because we couldn’t feed them anymore. And then life started to get hard because we could not find food and water, so sometime I had to go to school, but my dad couldn’t find money to pay for the tuition, because we couldn’t have any more food to sell or any more animals left. So I had to sit down for three months while my friends were at school. And to me, climate change is a personal issue. It affects us.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about how important it is for the U.N. climate summit, which for a few years now has been held in the North, in the Global North, to hear the voices of the Global South, like yours.

HILDA FLAVIA NAKABUYE: It is really — I don’t know what to say, but, to me, as a person from the Global South, I think it is right to be here to speak to very many people, especially people in the Global North, who are also part of the people that are really causing so much effects to the climate crisis. It is a very big — a very big issue for me to be here. And I feel like maybe there is hope that after this summit, maybe people will change the way they live, or people will have concrete actions towards this climate crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, this issue of arts and resistance, Angela. In our music break, we’re going to play your song. Talk about it and where you plan to perform it and why arts is a critical part of the resistance movement.

ANGELA VALENZUELA: Yeah. I feel that, well, arts are fundamental for us to understand the scope of the crisis and don’t lose hope. Like, it can heal us and inspire us. So, we have had the scientific reports for years now telling us that climate change and the ecological breakdown is here. But art can really heal and nurture our resistance, I think. And I know that Extinction Rebellion has this, like, rich narrative culture as part of their action, as well. So I really feel that this is key in order to continue in the long term for, like, in this movement.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain “Hombre de Pape [sic].”

ANGELA VALENZUELA: Ah, “Hombre de Papel.” So, I actually wrote it. Like, the name of the song, instead of “Hombre de Papel,” it was was going to be “Carbon Markets.” But then I realized that it was not a good name, because, well, of course, I’m against the carbon markets. But, so, “Hombre de Papel” is —

AMY GOODMAN: Means, in English?

ANGELA VALENZUELA: “Man of Paper.” And it’s actually singing to the delegates that are like writing all of these papers and agreements and for years have been like writing down commitments that they are not achieving. They are not like actually transforming this into reality, because every year we hit records on emissions. And it’s just also calling for the movement to become stronger and to raise our voice as like the tallest waterfall on Earth. And then it comes with lots of metaphors.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you give us a few lines before we play — before we play that song, a few of — would you mind singing a few of the lines?

ANGELA VALENZUELA: Oh, I would love to. So it’s:
¿Cuándo vas a aprender, Hombre de papel?
¿Cuándo vas a entender, que la vida no se puede vender?

AMY GOODMAN: Loïca. That’s your nom de guerre, I guess you could say, your singing name. I want to thank you so much —

ANGELA VALENZUELA: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: — for being with us. Yes, Angela Valenzuela is a coordinator with Fridays for Future in Chile. And we want to thank Hilda Flavia Nakabuye, who has come from Kampala, Uganda, as founder of Fridays for Future in Uganda.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we look at the anti-corporate movement taking on the U.N. COPs, this year COP25. We’re broadcasting from Madrid, Spain. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Hombre de Papel,” that’s “Man of Paper,” sung and written by our guest Angela Valenzuela. Her artistic name is Loïca. She’ll sing that song during a concert after the climate march today here in Madrid at COP25, the U.N. climate summit.

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