SOMERVILLE – Amalia Hochman has been striking for most of her young life. In fourth grade, she left school for a few months because she found it oppressive and antiquated, a feeling that for the most part continues to this day. After the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., during her sophomore year at Somerville High School, she led weekly walkouts to advocate for a statewide bill that would remove guns from people deemed dangerous to themselves or others. Now a senior, she’s on strike again – this time to save the planet.
Since March, Hochman has been furiously organizing a series of local climate strikes, a global youth movement demanding solutions to the crisis before it’s too late – which will be in just 11 years, according to a widely cited 2018 report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Hochman, 17, joins many of her generation in the feeling that her entire future is on the line. “The reason that these youth strikes are happening is because we have a particular stake in this, and a lot of people who are older than us have gotten to have lives, got to go to school, have normal friendships, figure out what they want to do with their lives,” she said. “We don’t really have that option. It’s not like, ‘What do you want to do with your lives?’ It’s like, ‘Are you even going to have a future?’”
Hochman came to this stark realization about a year ago during the fall of her junior year, when she took an environmental science course. Before that, she was as concerned about climate change as anyone, but felt powerless to stop it.
“I wanted to focus on women’s rights, on anti-violence work, that seemed more tangible,” she said. “I was like, ‘These are things I see where the problem is, and I know where to fix it.’ And the climate crisis seemed too big and too scary – like, what am I going to do?”
During the course, Hochman started to realize that many of the causes that animated her were wrapped up in the climate crisis, and that she actually could make a difference. “We can get the people power – we can change things just like any other movement has changed things in the past,” she said. “And I really, really want the chance to be able to fix all the oppressions that are wrong in our society. I want to fix the racism, I want to fix the sexism, etc., and we won’t have time to do that, and all those things will intensify if we don’t fix the climate crisis. And I was like, ‘Oh, this is where I need to be focusing on, because everything intersects when we’re in a crisis.’”
Hochman decided she was all in. She soon learned that an international school strike was taking place last March, and she reached out to the Boston organizers through Instagram. A lifetime of activism had made her an experienced organizer, and she took on an increasing amount of responsibility. By the time the second global strike on May 24 occurred, she and a few friends had taken the lead organizing the Boston strikes.
Soon after, she devoted all her time to organizing, and stopped attending school. However, both her school and her parents have supported this decision, and Hochman was recently permitted to take the rest of her courses online, at her own pace. After she graduates, she will take part in a six-month organizing fellowship called the Sunrise Semester, where she will live in a swing state and work full time to make climate change a top priority for the 2020 election.
The most high-profile series of strikes took place across the globe on Sept. 20, to coincide with the United Nations Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit in New York. Hochman and crew organized the March and May strikes in Boston in a matter of weeks, but they devoted months of careful preparation to the September event. As head of logistics of a gathering that expected to attract thousands, Hochman worked 15-hour days obtaining the necessary permits, ordering equipment, hiring security, arranging transportation, managing the budget, and all the other tasks, that require squinting at Excel spreadsheets.
She also needed to spread the word, but that was the fun part. In addition to innovative social media strategies and pro bono subway ads, Hochman and her friends ran from train car to train car on the Boston T, singing peace songs and handing out hundreds of fliers. They also ordered hundreds of pieces of chalk, and adorned public spaces with colorful details of the upcoming strike.
At 6 a.m. on Sept. 20, Hochman was a pile of nerves. But once the first truck drove in carrying rows of porta-potties, and thousands of people of all ages began streaming in with bright smiles and clever signs, Hochman’s trepidation transformed into joy. “All of us were just looking around like ‘Wow, I can’t believe this is happening,’” she said.
Hochman and her friend Audrey Lin, an 18-year-old from Watertown who was the strike’s general coordinator, introduced a lineup of politicians and activists that included Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, and Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu. The crowd, estimated at 7,000, gathered at City Hall Plaza first before marching to the State House. There, strikers advocated their demands: that Massachusetts declare a statewide climate emergency, sponsor a Green New Deal, pass legislation to help residents living in poor and polluted areas, and stop using fossil fuels.
Hochman thinks her Jewish background has informed her activism, and the Jewish community has backed her all the way. One of her first acts of protest occurred in elementary school, when she was bullied for being one of the only Jewish kids in her grade. She transferred to Jewish Community Day School in Watertown, and then attended Gann Academy in Waltham her freshman year of high school.
In an astonishing twist, she watched both her fourth-grade teacher at JCDS and her freshman adviser from Gann get arrested at a protest by the Jewish group, Never Again Action, in front of an ICE detention center.
“As a Jewish young woman growing up in this society, I know the consequences if people don’t take action – we know it really well,” said Hochman. “I saw it from [my teachers], and from my own life that we need to be taking action whenever we can to make sure that there isn’t injustice in this world.”