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Wednesday October 02, 2019

The climate strikes that took over San Francisco were just the beginning

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Isabella Zizi stands and gives land acknowledgement to the village of Yelamu of the Ohlone people

By Isabella Zizi, Climate Campaigner, Stand.earth

On September 20th, I joined millions of other people as we took over the streets and stood behind youth leadership all across the globe to kick off a week of “Climate Strikes,” demanding action be taken to stop the climate crisis from progressing any further. It was such a powerful feeling to be part of that energy from the students who understood the importance of their voices being amplified – to hear: “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Climate change has got to go!” echoing off of the skyscrapers in San Francisco and all the music, chants, and cheers roaring through the streets. That’s a moment I will cherish and, when I get older, will share with my great-grandchildren so they can understand the powerful movement I was part of. But that was just the beginning. 

A few days later on September 25th, I had the honor to work alongside the Climate Justice SF organizers, which consisted of Idle No More SF Bay, 1000 Grandmothers, Extinction Rebellion SF Bay, and Diablo Rising Tide in successfully shutting down two blocks on “Wall Street West” – also known as the Financial District in San Francisco on Montgomery Street – for a whole work day. Volunteer organizers showed up at the crack of dawn in the chilled, dark, and quiet streets of San Francisco, setting up banners, flags, information tables in preparation for the day. The clouds were turning pink as sunrise started to peek through the skyscrapers and activists. Before starting the march, a respectful reminder and land acknowledgement to the village of Yelamu of the Ohlone people was announced by myself before Idle No More SF Bay grandmothers and members kicked us off with the “Woman Warrior” song. From afar, we noticed our allies and street safety folks wearing highlighted neon vests as they were gently approaching cars requesting them to turn around informing them that the street was blocked off. Two blocks and four intersections later, we were successful with our blockades and the fun was just about to start.

Art volunteers were seen running around with boxes of varieties of paints; blues, whites, reds, and yellows, and mobile carts filled with natural brown clay and white clay buckets with handfuls of paintbrushes and stacks of containers. Each block was awaiting their designated chalk muralist to replicate their street mural that was created specifically for this action – each mural highlighting the solutions we need to put our intentions towards when it comes to reducing our use of fossil fuels and increasing renewable and sustainable energy. “Return to the old ways,” “Migration is natural, we are all related,” “Liberate the land, libera la tierra”; these were just three phrases I read out of 11 street murals that were painted on the streets in circles as big as four lanes total in the streets. In between each painting was an Indigenous California basketry design by Edward Willie of the Pomo/Wailaki/Wintu tribes.

Participants paint street murals on Montgomery street in SF


“Disrupt the suits and paint the streets!” 

We weren’t just there to paint murals though. As people started to pick up their paint brushes and create, there were already up to a hundred committed activists who were blockading entrances to banks like Chase, Citibank, Bank of America and most importantly, Wells Fargo and its headquarters. Some businesses decided to close their branch for the day, and others like the Wells Fargo Headquarters had a line up of their employees waiting for the police to arrest seven activists who successfully blockaded their back entrance that included body blockading and pipe props chaining two or more together. Their demands? Divest from the fossil fuel industry. The truth is that we are in dire and critical times when it comes to our climate, and our environment will continue to deteriorate if we let the fossil fuel industry burn, refine, and transport more oil than is absolutely necessary to complete a just transition to clean, renewable energy.

Protestors block the-entrance to a bank

Throughout the day, Rock the Bike helped amplify the sound system for the day as volunteers took turns cycling to keep the power running so that musical performances and powerful speakers were heard. This was stationed on the first block outside of the Brazilian Consulate where Brasil Solidarity Network was raising concerns over the horrendous acts of genocide towards the Indigenous peoples by their President Jair Bolsonaro, the forced fires that have been going on for over a month by the meat industries, and more. Images were found laid across the sidewalk of beautiful tropical animals like the sloth, tropical birds, frogs and insects.

As all this was ongoing, a helicopter was spotted above the action capturing footage for the SF Gate newspaper, which later that day published an article titled “‘It's spectacular': Climate activists paint stunning mural on two blocks of Montgomery St.This led to an onslaught of folks from around the city to flock down to Montgomery to see what was happening before the streets were covered with cars again.

People flock to Montgomery street to view the street murals

By 4:30pm we decided to wrap up and end with a Snake Dance, an Indigenous dance that was led by Idle No More SF Bay that weaved its way from the beginning of the block to the end of the second block, stepping side by side locking hands with different participants throughout the way. It finished with a coiled circle as someone cried out,“This is the circle of life!” The circle devolved into joyous hugs as we started to say our farewells and depart.

I’ve caught myself daydreaming or having flashbacks of little moments of the action flooding my mind. This was one of the most powerful and memorable actions I've ever been a part of. Frontline voices were centered and the youth movement helped energize and inspire new people to join the climate justice movement while grandparents and millennials came together to protest and engage in civil disobedience for our future. The whole experience was as empowering as it was beautiful. I can go on and on, but one thing is for certain, we need this same excitement and endurance when it comes to taking action at the industries and corporations who are continuously trying to bring us down and I am here for it.

Protesters stand with a climate emergency banner on Montgomery street in San Francisco

Although the week of Climate Strikes is over, our work continues – and we need your support. The Bay Area is constantly under environmental threat when it comes to the fossil fuel industry, and we need all hands on deck to stop it at the source. 

Regulatory agencies like the Bay Area Air Quality Management District have been real quiet when it comes to bringing up the Phillips 66 refinery wharf expansion project in Rodeo. A project that would bring in more tar sands tankers through the San Francisco Bay and threaten not just the Bay Area but the entire West Coast. What’s more, at Donald Trump’s request, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is developing a plan to dredge up the San Francisco Bay along a 13 mile route from Richmond through the Carquinez Strait. This would allow four of the five refineries in the East Bay to take in even larger shipments of heavier, more toxic crude, and have horrific impacts on frontline communities and the global climate. Whether you are a resident of the Bay Area or a concerned citizen of the world, we are asking you to pledge to Protect the Bay.

As many as 200 species are dying every day, our glaciers are melting, and the Amazon rainforest (also known as the lungs of our Earth) has been on fire for over a month. We cannot let business continue as usual. 

We need your help. Will you pledge to Protect the Bay from any more harm to be committed from this day forward? Will you help take a stand in making sure that frontline communities no longer have to face climate injustice from the fossil fuel industry? We’ve got big plans moving forward in the coming weeks and months, and we need support from folks in the Bay Area – and  beyond!

In addition to the unbelievably inspiring action that took place last week, over the past year we have helped educate the community about these issues by hosting successful town halls, organizing toxics tours through the refinery towns surrounding Phillips 66, and inspiring folks to help paint banners and flags for upcoming actions later down the road. 

Right now is a pivotal time in the fight to save our climate and our communities. Join us, and weave your own stories that you will be proud to tell your grandchildren about. These are exciting times and we don’t want you to miss out on any opportunities!


Isabella Zizi is a member of the Northern Cheyenne, Arikara and Muskogee Creek Nations. She is a Climate Campaigner for Stand.earth, and the youngest member of Idle No More SF Bay. She's also a signatory on the Indigenous Women of the Americas Defending Mother Earth Treaty. She was born in Richmond, California and grew up near the Chevron Refinery which exploded in 2012 and sent 15,000 people to hospitals with respiratory issues. This explosion motivated her to become involved in creating a better world and stopping climate chaos.