Xiuhtezcatl Martinez on the Global Climate Strike

Inspired by Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, millions of young people across the world plan to come out on strike from school to demand climate action tomorrow. Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, one of the young organizers of the strike, has been protesting since he was six years old, and coming from indigenous Mexican descent, believes protecting the Earth is his spiritual duty.

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is one of the young organizers of Friday’s strike and he is joining Thunberg and other youth activists in Washington, D.C., for the demonstrations. He’s been protesting since he was 6-years-old. And coming from indigenous Mexican dissent, Xiuhtezcatl believes protecting the earth is his spiritual duty. Our Hari Sreenivasan asked him why people are finally getting up and taking action.

HARI SREENIVASAN, CONTRIBUTOR: Xiuhtezcatl, tell me first, what is the climate strike? When are these strikes happening? What’s planned?

XIUHTEZCATL MARTINEZ, YOUTH DIRECTOR, EARTH GUARDIANS: So September 20th is going to be a culmination where we’re going to see millions of young people in the streets organizing from hundreds, if not thousands of cities around the globe. I think this represents a moment in history where the climate crisis is more present than it has ever been, both in many political spheres and in the global conversation. The consciousness of the people, and I think the younger generation, is very reflective of this dire sense of urgency. And the climate strikes, you know, were sparked by this brilliant young girl named Greta Thunberg from Sweden. She’s been striking outside of parliament in Sweden for, you know, almost a year now, I believe. So she had it done and kind of started that initiative on her own out in the cold in Sweden and now has mobilized the momentum for millions of young people worldwide to join her in these efforts. I believe March 15th was the first global climate strike that happened where there was 1.6 million people that walked out of school into the streets to demand bolder climate action, to demand politicians to play their part to keep fossil fuels in the ground, to meaningfully implement just transitions away from fossil fuels to averse the climate crisis. So now, every single day this issue is getting more and more important, more and more urgent. We have less and less time. And so I think this momentum that we’re seeing, especially now that New York public schools has excused absences on that day for students, we’re going to see a massive groundswell unlike we’ve ever seen before of youth mobilizing, industries using our voices to really show the world that this is the most important issue of our time.

SREENIVASAN: How are you going to make the grown-ups take you seriously? I understand the visuals, the action itself, all of these young people out on the streets. How do you translate that into action by the people who hold the levers of power who haven’t done enough for decades?

MARTINEZ: Definitely. I think public pressure is an absolutely critical piece of pushing the political envelope. Worldwide, you see an increase in governments and politicians really understanding that this is one of the most — a defining issue, truly. My generation represents, you know, the younger generation from 18 to 30, we represent the largest voting bloc in the United States, you know. So, we have pressure that we can put on politicians where we’re not going to vote anybody that doesn’t have a solid climate platform. I think worldwide as well, with these strikes, they’re symbolic of this greater shift that our culture needs to be making towards holding politicians accountable and holding elected officials accountable. For us, it’s not like we’re pretending like we know everything, because we are telling politicians to listen to the scientists, to listen to the scientists that have been telling us for decades that this is something that we need to be paying attention to immediately and acting upon immediately. And I’ve been doing this since I was 6-years-old, so I’ve been in the game for like 12 years.


MARTINEZ: I came to talk to you today about how sacred the earth is.


MARTINEZ: And so, for us to be stepping into not only the streets but also taking action in our courts, suing the federal government in the United States, addressing the United Nations, taking this into schools, building independent action in communities worldwide. Like, this strike, again, this is one, I think a landmark event that symbolizes the global momentum of young people’s will to overcome the stagnant energy that political power has failed to create the change we know is possible. The difference between this climate strike is we are calling on the adults worldwide to strike with us. The energy and the call and the ask is for adults to stand up with their youth, to walk out of their jocks, to walk out of their work and to join us in the streets to put that pressure on government. And then we’ve got to follow that up with the actions in our communities, with the way that we’re voting and so on.

SREENIVASAN: So, is there kind of a voter registration drive component to this, as you head into 2020, if you want to back candidates that prioritize climate?

MARTINEZ: Yes, as far as voting goes, that’s definitely on the agenda of myself and the organization I represent, Earth Guardians. I know a variety of various different groups within the climate space are also going to be putting their attention and energy into that. That’s not so much a specific ask. Because it’s such a global movement, these strikes are such a global movement, so it’s not just U.S.-centric, since, honestly, the largest turnout we’re seeing anyways is out in Europe. But I think this is a New York kind of flagship event because Greta Thunberg has come out to the states because there’s going to be so much momentum and energy and performing of artists, people pulling up. It’s going to be I think having much more serious implications than just asking people to vote. It’s going to be kind of, I think, a global moment where the space across the planet, people are unifying in this concerted call.

SREENIVASAN: Is there a specific list of sort of demands that you’d like to see resolved in having these actions?

MARTINEZ: For us, it’s like, the first step is putting this pressure on politicians, is putting this pressure on people that are going to be making the decisions on our behalf and really showing out on the streets and making this cry, like, we are not going to stand idly by while our future is kind of determined by people who aren’t brave enough to take the steps that are absolutely necessary for us to determine the future. In a positive light, you know, because things are really terrifying right now, you know. We’re seeing projections of everything from $600 trillion of damages from climate destruction in the next 80 years to a billion people being displaced to, you know, completely changing the global political landscape. Like, things are going to shift a lot. Like, it is very foolish to think that the world is going to look like it is in 10 years similar to how it does today. And it’s all up to us. Like, this is all hanging in the balance. This is all on the actions that we take, the way we live our lives, the policies that we push. And if we can do it quick enough, because there are people that are already suffering every single day, that are losing their homes in island nations in the South Pacific, whose homes are burning in the Amazon for fascist governments down there. We are seeing massive amounts of destruction and pain already. So we look at ourselves as this generation who has a lot of power, right? We have technology. We have the right to vote. Many of these young people do and like, what are we going to do about it? These politicians in office, what are you going to do about it, you know? This is about more than just what your platform is built off or the talking points in your script, but this is about the action that we are demanding to be demonstrated. Otherwise, it will be too late.

SREENIVASAN: You know, you said, you started this when you were 6. You were fighting fracking at 11. At 14, you’re already addressing the U.N. How did you get into this? How did you maintain this kind of enthusiasm? And why were you so passionate about this at a young age?

MARTINEZ: So, my ancestors, my people, the Mexico people of Mexico Tenochtitlan which is Mexico City today. And for us as indigenous peoples, to protect our land, our earth, our water, to fight for our future, for our community or our people, that is like inherent within our existence. We say, like our existence is resistance, you know? And so, it is second nature to defend what we love, to defend what we care about. It is our responsibility to our ancestors that fought to defend those same things. There is a responsibility to the next generations. So, for me, growing up in my culture with these teachings at a very young age, beginning to learn about the climate crisis, it became very apparent that this is the fight of my lifetime. And just, there’s no choice about it. It’s not about being an activist. It’s about fulfilling our responsibility as the human generation that is alive on earth today.

SREENIVASAN: And how about your parents, were they involved in this, too?

MARTINEZ: Yes, my mama started Earth Guardians, which is the organization that works with hundreds and thousands of youth worldwide, working with them to engage in community action on various different levels. She started that in 1992, way before I was born, and definitely grew up in the movement in the streets. My older siblings were involved. My dad was traveling, speaking at the United Nations, representing Mexico on environment, spirituality and culture. So, like it’s in my blood, for sure.

SREENIVASAN: I ask that partly because one of the critiques has been, look, these children are being manipulated by the adults, they don’t understand these topics, they’re being used as puppets in this large game, right? But from what you’re talking about, to me, this is something that you feel passionately about on your own.

MARTINEZ: It’s pretty foolish when adults are going to say oh, those kids don’t know what they’re talking about, they’re being manipulated by the parents. They’re not listening. They’re not listening to us. We have personal investment in this. We have stories of how we’ve already been affected. We have a burning passion within us, the same way that a kid wants, you know, sees injustice at any level, whether it’s, you know, in our community or bullying in our schools. Like, we know that’s not right. It doesn’t take a degree or any amount of years on earth to know what is right and what is wrong. And for us, like, we see that our future’s in danger. We see that our president is in danger. We see that our planet is danger. And we see this interconnectedness that we have with all life on earth. For much of our generation, like, this is terrifying. This is depressing. This creates apathy and stress and disconnection, and, like us numbing ourselves from all these different problems. Like, it is not easy to be alive in the world today and to be a young person in the world today because we carry a lot of that weight, and we’re holding that, you know? And so, for parents to not only — and adults to not only create, be responsible largely for creating this crisis, but also telling us that our investment in building solutions that their generation was too afraid to do, it’s coming from a place of manipulation from our parents? That’s just like, come on, you know, like, either get on our side or get out of the way.

SREENIVASAN: Has this come with costs? I mean as you become more vocal, as you’ve grown in this movement, have you made enemies?

MARTINEZ: Yes, I mean I was getting death threats from the fossil fuel industry when I was like 11-years-old, 11, 12-years-old. And my little brother, who was like 9, 10, getting death threats from the fossil fuel industry, people trying to set up shady meetings. Lots of things have happened in my life where it’s been very apparent that being this vocal and standing out and saying stuff that many people are afraid to say, many adults are afraid to say, let alone other kids, we are building more power so that we’re not alone in this and there’s so many young leaders, but there’s definitely been times in my life where I’ve been afraid because of the target this work has put on my back.

SREENIVASAN: How do you know it was from the fossil fuel industry?

MARTINEZ: I was doing a bunch of work in 2010, 2011 and 2012 specifically around natural gas extraction, resisting that in our community, doing a lot of education in a lot of conservative communities and schools where there was a lot of parents and people that worked in the industry, and going in and pretty much teaching them and giving them the truth about this, like, horribly extractive industry that was destroying our community’s health,our air, our water. And so, around that time, there was all kinds of different things that were coming indirectly from people within the industry, people disguising themselves as, like, people that worked for my school, trying to meet up with me, and like, outside — yes, there was all kinds of stuff that happened. Like, my mom was like, you know, fielding a lot of it, but yes, it was definitely an intense time because we were making a lot of noise in that space specifically and getting a lot of, like, yes, really shaking things up in Colorado for a while there.

SREENIVASAN: You are a part of the lawsuit against the U.S. government. Tell us about that.

MARTINEZ: Yes. So, myself and 20 other youth filed a lawsuit in 2015 against the federal government, demanding action to directly address the climate crisis. Our claim was that the federal government has violated our constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property for their failure to address the climate crisis adequately, for knowing about this crisis for the last 50-plus years, and not only doing nothing, but working directly with the industries that are perpetuating this crisis. And so, this case on its way to trial has gone through many obstacles and leaps and bounds, and initially filed against the Obama administration, passed on out of the Trump administration. We have seen massive, I guess waves in ways people never thought was possible with this case, everything from, you know, legal and political analysts looking at it thinking that it was doomed. We’re here, you know, four, five almost years later, and we’re still going through the court system, and various judges have ruled in our favor and said that these young people have standing and have the actual constitutional right to a livable climate that sustains human life. So, different rulings have really been revolutionary in ways that we haven’t seen before, and I think young people not just taking to the streets but really using the justice system, leveraging political power in these spaces is what gives our generation that edge that is different than different approaches to environmentalism in the past. And it’s a very exciting place that we’re in. And now we’re kind of a little bit in a waiting period on our way to trial in the Ninth Circuit court and excited, excited to see where this goes. It has a lot of potential. What we’re demanding is for a comprehensive — a prescription for a comprehensive climate recovery plan to be implemented across the nation to reverse the climate crisis and get us back down to a safe level of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. And it’s big and it’s revolutionary and it’s very sweeping, and that’s the kind of work that’s going to be needed.

SREENIVASAN: Environmental movements have been fueled by youth for decades. Why do you think this moment is different?

MARTINEZ: I think a lot of these ideologies of where environmentalism lies and how it’s defined has actually separated and divided people. It has been very narrow, I think, in its approach and its tactics and it hasn’t really reached a mainstream audience in the way that it needs to, because the place that the planet is at, there’s just never been a greater urgency to act at every level, from politicians to corporations to individuals. And so, now, I think as the crisis has gotten bigger and bigger, the walls that separate these different movements and this different work begins to fall away. And we realize it’s not just about activists and politicians and people that work in the U.N., but this is about, you know, entrepreneurs and visionaries and artists, designers, teachers, parents, workers. Like, we all have a place within this movement. And I think our generation gets that more than other people, and I believe we’re the last generation that’s really going to have the opportunity to sway the future in a positive light.

SREENIVASAN: Xiuhtezcati Martinez, good luck to you.

MARTINEZ: Thank you.

About This Episode EXPAND

Dan Meridor and Ronen Bergman weigh in on Tuesday’s nail-biter election in Israel. Susan Neiman joins the program to discuss her new book “Learning from the Germans: Race and the Memory of Evil.” Xiuhtezcatl Martinez speaks to Hari Sreenivasan about tomorrow’s Global Climate Strike and his work as Youth Director for Earth Guardians.