A 266-Mile Walk: Youth Climate Activists March From Paradise to San Francisco

Ezra David Romero
May 28

Madeline Ruddell, 16, says she has long lived with the effects of climate change as a resident of Sonoma County, where wildfires have ripped across the landscape in recent years.

Ruddell, communications lead for the Sonoma County hub of the Sunrise Movement, a national youth-led climate activist group, can’t remember a fall where she didn’t prep an evacuation bag, or take time off of school because of a big fire.

“I was eager for action because I’m watching fires consume my town and consume my county,” she said. “These fires … motivate me to work harder.”

She is one of seven young activists marching 266 miles over 2 1/2 weeks in an effort to pressure California lawmakers to support the Civilian Climate Corps as part of a Green New Deal. She hopes work done by the corps could help reduce fire risk in California.

“I want ambitious progressive climate legislation passed by the end of summer 2021,” she said. “We only have one planet and my generation is gonna have to live on it for the rest of our lives.”

They argue the $10 billion proposal could create 1.5 million jobs, putting people to work restoring wetlands, removing invasive species and addressing the threat of climate change.

For Vianni Ledesma, 27, with Sunrise Movement San Diego, the march is about encouraging policy leaders to not take incremental action.

Climate change is always “in the back of my mind when I’m planning for my future,” she said. “If I can eliminate that and eliminate it for everyone younger than me, that’ll be a beautiful thing.”

Along the way, the seven marchers will stop for events in Yuba City, Sacramento, Davis, Napa, Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Novato and Mill Valley, before arriving in San Francisco on June 14.

“We’re planning to meet them at the Golden Gate Bridge, and march across down to Nancy Pelosi’s office,” said Ahlad Reddy with Sunrise Bay Area.

In an emailed statement to KQED, House Speaker Pelosi called the young marchers “courageous” and an “inspiration.”

“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,” she said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office has yet to comment on the youth walk.

Ahlad, 28, is creating art for when the marchers arrive in the Bay Area. He says his team plans to create posters and a street mural representing what they think a Civilian Climate Corps could look like: jobs, restored ecosystems and healthy people.

“We’re not asking people to only reduce their individual consumption in order to tackle climate change,” he said. “We’re asking the government to invest in people, because that’s the only way we’re gonna rebuild a better future.”

Follow the youth as they march across California:

Twitter @smvmtgenonfire
Instagram - @sunrisegenonfire
TikTok - @sunrisegenonfire