Why I strike

School striking as an Asian American climate activist.

Wendy Gao, Editorial Board

Image courtesy of HuffPost.

Anyone who knows me knows that I follow the rules, color inside the lines, and come to a complete halt at stop signs. Few things scare me more than authority. However, this Friday I’m breaking the rules and I’m skipping school. Inspired by Greta Thunberg’s #SchoolStrike4Climate, I’m going on strike to join the millions of students around the world who will be doing the same. Breaking the rules does not come easy to me, but here’s why I’ll be in the streets of Washington, D.C. on September 20th.

For the past 17 years of my life, my parents have ingrained the idea of higher education into my mind and drilled me to focus on my future like tunnel vision. As Chinese immigrants, my parents sacrificed everything in order for my sisters and I to obtain a quality education and chase opportunities they never had. We understood this, so we worked hard in school to ensure their sacrifices were worthwhile. My future has become my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and at times is the only thing I see on rainy days.

October 2018 came around, and the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sent shock-waves around the globe with their report stating that governments had less than 12 years to act on the climate crisis, or face devastating consequences. My lifetime of goals, hopes, dreams, and ambitions seemed to shrink in an instant. According to the IPCC, by the time the clock strikes midnight for humanity, I will be 29 years old. How would I be the first Asian American Justice to preside on the United States Supreme Court? How would I teach AP world history when I retire? These thoughts and questions ran through my head and made me feel very small. My parents have always told me that I am the maker of my own destiny, but was this even true anymore?

Believe me, I’ve wrestled with the idea of skipping school for countless nights. Every day I’m not in school is a wasted day of my parents’ struggles and toils, and for as much as I complain about school, I truly do enjoy learning. I love chemistry and history and will never not be a nerd about my favorite subjects. I still struggle to reconcile skipping school with striking for my future, but I’m not striking because I want to miss school. I’m striking so I can have the future both my parents and I have spent so long crafting. When I was a kid, my parents balanced two jobs on top of graduate schooling and raising a family. I know those years were some of the hardest of my parents’ lives, but they tell me that their focus on the long game – my sisters and I – got them through it. What do I do if I don’t even have a future to look toward?

The problem here is the inability of greedy corporations and politicians to see beyond the “now.” In 11 years, they will find that they cannot drink oil and that they cannot breathe money. People wiser than me have said that children see with more clarity than adults, and that’s what’s happening now. In an ironic turn of events, the world’s youngest are uniting because we see the future clearer than our decision makers. I’m striking because I have so much of my life left to live, so much of the world to see, and so much left to accomplish. I’m striking because I want my parents to have a comfortable retirement – one in which they will have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink when they can finally put their feet up. I’m striking because it seems that the youth are the only players who came to play for the long game.