Green at eighteen: L.A environmentalist Kevin Patel is mobilizing shifts in legislation with army of youth activists
Kevin Patel is 18 years old and recently graduated from Santee Educational Complex in South Central Los Angeles where he was part of the Debate Club, the Feminism Club, the Academic Decathalon, and STEM club.
MOoW: What other environmental programs or groups are you involved in at school?
KP: Oh, so many! I founded and am the president, right now for the fourth year in a row, of my environmental club at my school. We've been doing so many initiatives at school with plastic, plastic recycling bins, and stuff like that. We did a whole project on feeding the homeless in South Los Angeles. One of our projects was actually recycling the plastics that our students were putting in the recycling bins and from that money we would buy food and donate it to the homeless shelters and we still continue to do that. We solved two problems: the plastic pollution problem and the homelessness crisis. What I found interesting was that our plans actually worked out and a lot of students were intrigued by our solutions!
MOoW: You’re an inspiration! How did you get into sustainability and activism in the first place?
KP: During my fifth grade year, I was affected by heart palpitations. I was clueless as I suddenly had a heart problem and didn't know what was causing it. I found out that air pollution is a huge thing in Los Angeles and I was affected by it. I now have to live with a heart problem for the rest of my life because of the things that I was eating and the chemicals and smog that I was taking in. I see a lot of students in the L.A. area also being affected with asthma and heart problems. My main concern is to fight so that younger generations won't actually have to go through this. One of the concerns was how are students going to be finding out about the daily issues that are going on right now like things that we eat that have chemicals that affect our body in a negative way.
MOoW: What were your initial actions in the beginning when you were learning about and experiencing this unfortunate scenario?
KP: I was 14 or 15 years old. I did not know what to do because I felt vulnerable in my state of being unhealthy. During my sixth grade year, I had a good principal at my middle school. She was so kind and she let me teach a gardening class during that 6th period. We grew organic, non-GMO vegetables and salad for students to eat which was pretty cool because we were actually getting food that wasn't tainted by chemicals. But then I took it into action during my high school years. During my ninth grade year, I stepped up to the plate and said that these issues should be explored and taught to every student. I started advocating within LAUSD, especially going to board meetings and saying we needed to get healthy meals within all LAUSD schools, not just in my school. And now there's a bill in California that says that all schools in California need big, healthy meals for all students. I did not know they had a pilot program in LAUSD where twelve schools would get big meals and the rest wouldn't. It was sad because a lot of students living in the valley were vegan and they would starve themselves like I did in ninth, tenth and eleventh grades because I didn't feel the meals were healthy enough. I began advocating then and eventually our school was added onto the LAUSD Vegan Meals pilot program which provided us with vegan meals. It was really nice and I heard that California actually has a bill coming up to get vegan meals within all the California school districts.
MOoW: They heard you loud and clear. Talk about some of the other youth organizations that you've gotten involved with.
KP: I got involved with the Youth Climate Strike as an organizer. I was inspired by that movement seeing they were like me: kids my age fighting for causes that were going to impact the livelihood of my generation and younger generations. That's what led me to join multiple organizations during my junior and senior years. Right now, I'm actually the Sustainability Liaison for the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council which covers City Hall and pretty much everything on that side of town. I talk to constituents and find out what their concerns are with sustainability and see what I can do to better their neighborhood whether it be supporting a bill or an action or a resolution, especially with the Mobilization Department that City Hall is creating. I work with City Hall and Mayor Garcetti. Motions go through and are passed by Sustainability Liaisons on things that will affect our future. My being the youngest Sustainability Liaison and a representative for the City of Los Angeles was a tough challenge. I write up reports about what our community needs. That's one thing, but I have joined multiple organizations like This is Zero Hour where I'm part of their National Partnership team. I protest and do a lot of civil disobedience with my fellow youth. I'm also part of the Student Climate Emergency Coalition which is a bunch of students from the Hollywood, Valley and Mid-City areas that fight for climate action within their districts. They have just had a sustainability fair in which they were contacting multiple organizations to say what's going on and to check up on their progress and stuff like that. I am also a chapter coordinator of Ignition Green.
MOoW: How did you get involved with Ignition Green?
KP: Ignition Green is a Texas-based organization. I'm also a Climate Reality leader. I had training with them this past August and I met someone from Texas that has a chapter of Ignition Green in San Antonio, so I've gotten connected with them and I started my own chapter within my school. We've been doing a lot of initiatives with them. Their steel straw initiative teaches students to use steel straws and canteens instead of using disposable water bottles, so that's been really cool. Our campus was awarded prizes for ‘Most Sustainable Campus’ and ‘Most Energy Efficient Campus in California’ which is a huge honor just because we've been pushing for a lot of sustainable efforts within our school and our community.
MOoW: Ignition Green is a national effort. Do the students in your local chapter know that this activism is happening on a national scale with global effects?
KP: They do. They read up on current events and all the natural disasters that happen around the world. They know that it's being caused in part by some of the everyday things that we do . And they know that the natural disasters like tornadoes turning up in a village in India where there haven’t been tornadoes is due to climate change. And they're taking notice of these effects that are happening. They read up on our social media platforms where we share all this information. We have multiple slack channels that are open for our students to join whether they're interested to join the Sunrise Movement or This Is Zero Hour. I’m going to be starting a slack channel with a lot of other youth in the coming months. So it's about getting information across about what’s happening across the world. Imagine what's happening in our own community and seeing how we could have a bigger impact and change our communities so that we could set an example for other cities and other states. It's about making sure that the information gets through to the right channels and that it gets spread. That's the main important thing.
MOoW: Do you think students are taking action because the message is coming from their peers as opposed to adults?
KP: It's about the trust. A lot of students don't trust that our current politicians will do the right thing or make that necessary change happen as quickly as necessary in order for our future to even exist. They are motivated by greed. Our students rely on what they see going on and they are very intelligent. We are really connected with other people from all over the world and we try to bring that information into one hub and then make sure that it gets out to all other students to see what they could do. It's all a huge effort right now. Every Friday, students from around the world protest, especially in Europe. We have that sense that adults might just give up, but we are here right now and we're going to be the ones to feel the impact. That’s why we are more trustworthy. We say that this is our problem and we should trust one another and try to fix it together. I'm actually going to use Zero Hour which is a huge huge platform of young people that are fighting to educate communities around the country and abroad about the system of oppression and that the root causes of climate change are like capitalism and colonialism and other systems that are interacting with one another. A lot of that movement is making sure that marginalized communities know how to create a just transition to equality. So I know that Zero Hour right now is a campaign that's going on with a huge array of ambassadors. I'm also an ambassador for Zero Hour and we do multiple presentations about issues like racism, capitalism, and sexism. We share with students about how these issues also affect the climate crisis and how we can better understand how we can make a change within our lives.
MOoW: You've got a very busy calendar. What are your plans when you finish your tests for graduation and where are you going next?
KP: l am actually headed to Loyola Marymount University but I do want to work or do an internship with the community of Los Angeles. I have an opportunity on the table with L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz (representing District 5) where I would be an intern focusing primarily on sustainability. We will see where it takes me.
MOoW: On a final note, what message do you have to empower your fellow students or older generations about where you're going on the global climate issue?
KP: You know I might be the busiest person on earth but I make time to go out there and say hey, this is what's important for our generation. You know my message to you older generations is enough is enough. But we must flourish. We must change our ways and say we need leaders that understand that we're done waiting around for change to be made. And I believe that every individual and every community should have access to clean air and clean water. I think that we could all put our heads together to make sure that this happens. And I think that once we do that, we can have a better environment and make sure that we can solve these crises and these issues.
How are you helping your family or community become more environmentally aware? Please start a conversation by posting any questions or comments below.
Interviewer: Shelley Goldstein
Editor: Denise Domergue