Youth climate activists march across the Golden Gate Bridge in support of the Civilian Climate Corps on June 14, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)
A climate justice march led by a small group of young activists that began in Paradise ended in San Francisco on Monday, after more than 100 climate activists from the youth-led Sunrise Movement marched across the Golden Gate Bridge.
The young activists are calling on California lawmakers to support the "most progressive version possible" of President Biden's plan to retool former President Franklin Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps, a Great Depression-era program that created jobs by putting people to work building roads and bridges, installing telephone lines and establishing campgrounds.
The Biden administration has proposed a $10 billion revamp called the Civilian Climate Corps, a program geared toward fighting climate change by employing people to restore wetlands and remove invasive species.
Their ranks swelled to more than 20 last week, with dozens more joining for the final leg, many of them beating drums and singing as they crossed from Marin to San Francisco over the iconic bridge.
One of the marchers, Ema Govea, a 17-year-old high school student from Santa Rosa, spoke with KQED’s Brian Watt last week. The following has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
How did this idea come together? You're walking from Paradise?
Ema Govea: We are really excited to have started in Paradise because it's such a flashpoint for all the [conversations around] fire in California. And this idea really came together out of an urgency of really wanting to do something as big as we can. I was really excited to organize this march and participate in it. We walked so far because we have an opportunity right now politically, and as young people at this moment.
Paradise is a very important place to start a march like this. But I'm thinking about your feet. How are you feeling at this moment after all this walking?
Govea: The first week was over 100 degrees and I had a lot of blisters. I was really feeling it. At this point, my legs have gotten used to it. And thinking about what we're fighting for, plans that we have for the future, and future actions has kept me going. It honestly doesn't matter if my legs are sore or if my feet hurt, at this point.
I imagine you've done some travels like this through California by car on a freeway. What did you notice about the landscape as you walked?
Govea: One thing that was especially amazing was talking to people in towns who I would have never met before. We walked through some of the reddest parts of the state and had really amazing conversations with a lot of people. Also, we passed hills that had burned, trees that were all black and didn't have any growth on them — it really brought home what is at stake.
When you say walking through and meeting people in some of the reddest parts of the state, I think I know what you mean. But what kinds of feedback did you get on your march from the people you met?
Govea: We would walk by and we have these big flags. People would ask us: “What are you doing?” We would say: “We're marching to San Francisco and we're demanding good jobs to stop the climate crisis.”
And that would start a conversation with a lot of people. And we would talk to them about what jobs are like in their areas. A lot of times the job opportunities are not great. A lot of people, regardless of political affiliation, were really supportive of the cause.
You're in this group of seven people who are around your age. And in what way does your experience growing up in California shape how you're doing this work for climate justice?
Govea: I am really grateful for this group of seven people. And now, actually, as we're speaking, there's an even larger group of over 20 people who are now marching with us, who have joined us along the way.
Your group grew as you walked, is what you're telling us?
It started with a group of seven and now we're around 30 people.
You're doing all of this while you are a high school student. I'm kind of curious how you were thinking about this issue during the pandemic?
Govea: The pandemic and the recession that has come along with it has really shown the inequalities people face in this county. I have talked to a lot of people who've lost their jobs and who have even more instability than they had before. And there's a need right now for good paying jobs. And the Civilian Climate Corps would be one of those things that could provide really good paying union jobs that would also benefit society.
Now, you want to end this march, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco — all in support of the Civilian Climate Corps. What do you make of congressional action on the issue?
Govea: It's been wholly inadequate. We're demanding that our politicians step up and be brave and pass the boldest version of the Climate Corps possible.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office told KQED that “congressional Democrats support the goals of the Civilian Climate Corps and look forward to working with the administration to enact it in the jobs plan."
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