“We’re the ones affected.” Those are the words of youth climate activists who confronted California Senator Dianne Feinstein last week in San Francisco, demanding she sign on to the Green New Deal. In a video of the interaction that has since been seen across the country, Feinstein dismissed the children—some as young as 7 years old—asking her to take bold action on climate change. We speak with the youth climate activists who confronted the senator: 16-year-old Isha Clarke, 12-year-old Rio and his 10-year-old sister Magdalena.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. “We’re the ones affected.” Those are the words of youth climate activists who confronted California Senator Dianne Feinstein last week in San Francisco, demanding she sign on to the Green New Deal. In a video of the interaction that has since been seen across the country, Feinstein dismissed the children, some as young as 7 years old, asking her to take bold action on climate change.
RIO: We are trying to ask you to vote yes on the Green New Deal.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: OK, I’ll tell you what. We have our own Green New Deal.
YOUTH ACTIVIST: Scientists have said that we have 12 years to turn this around.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Well, it’s not going to get turned around in 10 years. What we can do is put ourselves—
MORISSA ZUCKERMAN: Senator, if this doesn’t get turned around in 10 years, you’re looking at the faces of the people who are going to be living with these consequences.
MAGDALENA: The government is supposed to be for the people, by the people and all for the people.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: You know what’s interesting about this group is, I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I know what I’m doing. You come in here, and you say, “It has to be my way or the highway.” I don’t respond to that. I’ve gotten elected. I just ran. I was elected by almost a million-vote plurality. And I know what I’m doing. So, you know, maybe people should listen a little bit.
ISHA CLARKE: I hear what you’re saying, but we’re the people who voted you. You’re supposed to listen to us. That’s your—
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: How old are you?
ISHA CLARKE: —your job.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: How old are you?
ISHA CLARKE: I’m 16. I can’t vote.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Well, you didn’t vote for me.
ISHA CLARKE: Well, she voted for you.
MAGDALENA: It doesn’t matter. We’re the ones who are going to be impacted!
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Well, words mean something.
MAGDALENA: It doesn’t matter. We’re going to be the ones who are impacted.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: I understand that. I have seven grandchildren.
ISHA CLARKE: But you represent all people in your district, regardless of whether they voted for you or not.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: I understand it very well.
MORISSA ZUCKERMAN: Senator, the cost of not taking this action is far higher than the cost of what the Green New Deal will be.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Here is what—
MORISSA ZUCKERMAN: And there is enormous popularity for this bill around the whole country.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: OK. Here is what we are proposing.
MORISSA ZUCKERMAN: And we’re asking you to be brave and do this for us and for your grandchildren.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: I’m trying to do the best I can, which was to write a responsible resolution.
MORISSA ZUCKERMAN: Any plan that doesn’t take bold, transformative action is not going to be what we need.
MAGDALENA: We need your leadership.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Well, you know better than I do, so I think one day you should run for the Senate.
MORISSA ZUCKERMAN: Great, I will.
MAGDALENA: We have a letter for you.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: And then you do it your way.
RIO: But by that time—
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: In the meantime, I just—
RIO: By that time, there’s going to be a big problem.
MAGDALENA: We have a letter for you.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: I just won a big election.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Dianne Feinstein, the senator from California, being confronted by teens and preteens about her position on climate change. Yesterday, I spoke with three of the climate activists, age 16, 12 and 10, who confronted Senator Feinstein. I began by speaking with Isha Clarke, a 16-year-old junior at MetWest High School in Oakland. She’s an activist with Youth vs. Apocalypse. I asked her why she went to Senator Feinstein’s office.
ISHA CLARKE: We were there to ask her to vote yes on the Green New Deal. And while we were there, she said things like “It’s not going to pass in the Senate,” “It’s too pricey.” And we responded by saying that, “Really, Senator Feinstein, it’s too pricey to not enact the Green New Deal. And the longer that we wait, the more costly and devastating the consequences of this climate crisis will be,” and that, frankly, we understand that the Green New Deal may not pass in Senate right now, because we know that the Republicans hold the majority, but that it’s important that our politicians take a stand and say that they are in solidarity with us and that they understand the weight of this climate crisis and that—so that we can start to build the momentum for when we do hold the majority in Senate, and it will pass right away, and we can really take needed action.
AMY GOODMAN: And Senator Feinstein has been in the Senate for over a quarter of a century. Your answer to her when she responded to all of you in her office, saying she has a lot more experience than you do, that she knows what she’s doing when she introduces a resolution or a bill, she knows how to get—what gets passed and what doesn’t?
ISHA CLARKE: While I have a lot of respect for her and of all of the work that she’s done, I think there’s always change to be made. There’s always room for improvement. And just because she has more life experience than me doesn’t mean anything, because I am the one who is experiencing most directly the effects of this climate crisis. I’m the one who has to miss school because of smoke days. I’m the one who has to worry about flash floods and mudslides and fires. I am the one who is at the forefront of those experiences, so I should be the one who is telling her what needs to be done for that to be changed.
AMY GOODMAN: Isha, what got you so interested in this issue, in the issue of climate change?
ISHA CLARKE: Well, it’s for two reasons. One, because we’re really seeing the impacts of the climate crisis right now. We have—it’s raining a lot in California right now, and usually that would be a really good thing because of the drought, that was made extremely more severe by climate change. But now we’re scared about the rain, because there can be floods and there can be mudslides because of the fires that just happened, that is also because of the climate crisis. We’ve had to miss school because of smoke days. That didn’t happen 10, 20, 30 years ago. So that’s impacting us right now.
And the second reason is because I really think that climate change is an intersectional issue and that, especially when dealing with the Green New Deal, it encompasses so many issues—economic justice, racial justice, women’s rights—so many things. And through fighting for climate justice, I can also fight for all of the other justices that I’m super passionate about.
AMY GOODMAN: So, on Monday, after the weekend, you held a news conference with other young people outside the offices of Senator Feinstein. I want to play a clip from that.
ISHA CLARKE: We will not take the excuse that the Green New Deal is too pricey. It is too pricey to not enact the Green New Deal. The longer we wait to take action, the more costly and devastating the impacts of this crisis will be.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, that’s Isha Clarke holding a news conference outside Senator Feinstein’s office last Monday. Isha, can you talk about why you went back to Senator Feinstein’s offices? What had she proposed to you all on Friday, after she said she did not support the Green New Deal?
ISHA CLARKE: She presented us with her own resolution that she thought would pass the Senate, that was really a disappointment. It was a watered-down version of the Green New Deal. It didn’t talk about offshore drilling or fracking, which is something that we—that is a huge issue in California. It didn’t address green jobs in transportation. And it didn’t—it just wasn’t—oh, it didn’t align with science. We have 12 years, and her plan gave us until 2050. If we wait until 2050 to make change, then our Earth is going to die. We will quite literally have an apocalypse, like it says on my shirt. And so we were calling for her to both drop that resolution and to vote yes on the Green New Deal, because that is the only plan right now that aligns with justice and that aligns with science.
AMY GOODMAN: What does the Green New Deal mean to you?
ISHA CLARKE: The Green New Deal is a revolutionary way to fix a lot of the issues that we’re seeing in our country right now, both the climate crisis, that isn’t only in our country but is global, and to address the economic struggles that we’re facing right now. We don’t have enough jobs for people, especially jobs that adequately can sustain them, that can give them living wages, that can give them benefits to provide for their families. And we’re seeing a lot of racial inequality. And the Green New Deal really brings all of those justices to light and helps to solve those issues that we’re seeing in our country.
AMY GOODMAN: Isha, can you tell us about yourself, how you got so interested in climate change and what you plan to do?
ISHA CLARKE: I started getting involved with climate justice, actually, with a similar interaction with a developer, Phil Tagami, who is trying to build a coal terminal through Oakland. And I was with some of the folks who are in Youth vs. Apocalypse right now, and we went to his office to ask him to not build the coal terminal, because it’s going to kill us. And it was a similar kind of confrontation.
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you want to be?
ISHA CLARKE: You know, I don’t really know. I had dreams of becoming a surgeon, but I think I could also be a super amazing politician and community organizer. I really want to find a way to encompass all of the things that I love doing.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Isha, you’re a junior at MetWest High School in Oakland. The Oakland teachers are on strike. Can you talk about what that means for you? So you’re not going to school today?
ISHA CLARKE: Yeah, no. Well, I still take some college classes that I have to go to, but I don’t go to school. I don’t go to my like high school.
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think of your teachers being on strike?
ISHA CLARKE: I fully stand in solidarity with them. I think that the fight is really about them, but, in turn, it’s about the young people, because if they’re not getting paid adequately, then we can’t have good teachers who are teaching us what we need to learn and creating a future. And I think it all goes back to this idea that we don’t have enough money to be able to fund our future. And so, I’m in complete solidarity with them.
AMY GOODMAN: Isha Clarke is a 16-year-old junior at MetWest High School in Oakland, where the teachers have been on strike for the past week. Isha is an activist with Youth vs. Apocalypse.