Isha Clarke, a high school senior from Oakland, emcees a Youth vs. Apocalypse protest in San Francisco, Dec. 6, 2019. (Gabriel Greschler)
Isha Clarke, a high school senior from Oakland, emcees a Youth vs. Apocalypse protest in San Francisco, Dec. 6, 2019. (Gabriel Greschler)

Jewish youth lead climate protest against major fossil fuel investor BlackRock

Bay Area Jewish youth activists helped lead a large protest this morning at the San Francisco headquarters of one of the world’s largest asset management companies.

Critics say BlackRock, which oversees $6.4 trillion in assets, is a major contributor to the climate crisis, specifically through investments in environmentally destructive sectors that have led to deforestation in the Amazon. They also criticize BlackRock’s investments in private prisons holding migrant families.

Isha Clarke and Nadja Goldberg joined hundreds of other students and activist groups on the front steps of BlackRock’s South of Market offices.

Clarke, a senior at MetWest High School in Oakland, emceed the protest. At one point, she chanted to the crowd in a call-and-response, “Ain’t no power like the power of the youth, cuz the power of the youth don’t stop.” (She also emceed San Francisco’s youth-organized climate march in September, one of the largest global protests since the Women’s March in 2017.)

Clarke was representing the Youth vs. Apocalypse group, which has its roots in a 2015 movement to prevent the construction of a coal terminal in West Oakland. (The decision is currently held up in the courts.) She identifies as half-Jewish and said her upbringing is a major reason why she was at BlackRock’s front steps.

“I’ve always grown up around a lot of social justice. Most of that came from the Jewish side of my family,” she said. “Our purpose is to repair the world. In this case, save the world.”

Goldberg, a junior at Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, wore a headband that had “NOW” written across it, with the “O” as the Earth. She was one of the main media contacts for the protest and said she provides a lot of written material for Youth vs. Apocalypse.

She left school at 9:30 a.m. for the protest and said her teachers supported her.

Goldberg belongs to San Francisco’s Or Shalom Jewish Community and said she spoke about climate justice during this year’s Yom Kippur services. “My parents have always talked to me about tikkun olam,” she said. “I think there is an impulse to care for other people. That comes from a lot of what my rabbi [Katie Mizrahi] has spoken about.”

Nadja Goldberg (center), a Jewish high school junior from San Francisco, was one of the leaders of a Youth vs. Apocalypse protest in San Francisco, Dec. 6, 2019. (Gabriel Greschler)
Nadja Goldberg (center), a Jewish high school junior from San Francisco, was one of the leaders of a Youth vs. Apocalypse protest in San Francisco, Dec. 6, 2019. (Gabriel Greschler)

Several members of Jewish Youth for Community Action (JYCA), which also had a presence at the large Sept. 20 Climate March, were also at the protest. One of them was Kai Levenson-Cupp, a senior at Alameda Science and Technology Institute. He said his Jewish mother was a major influence on his sense of social justice, as she had protested South African apartheid in the 1990s.

“The Jewish principle of ‘no one is free until everyone is free’ is a guiding principle,” he said. “As long as there are people suffering from climate change, we are still in Mitzrayim,” or ancient Egypt.

Youth vs. Apocalypse and JYCA were joined by many other activist groups, including BlackRock’s Big Problem and 350 Silicon Valley.

BlackRock’s investments in fossil fuels are extensive. According to data from the U.K. nonprofit InfluenceMap, the company has invested a combined $87 billion in oil, coal and gas companies. The same data shows that BlackRock, through shareholder voting power, regularly opposes fossil fuel companies that seek to initiate climate change reforms.

In a statement provided to J., the company said, “BlackRock believes that climate risk is an important investment risk for our clients, which is why we have conducted groundbreaking research to help them navigate these issues. We offer a wide range of environmentally sustainable investment options, including renewable power funds and green bonds. BlackRock also engages directly with companies we invest in on behalf of our clients to understand on how they are addressing climate-related issues.”

Gabriel Greschler
Gabriel Greschler

Gabriel Greschler is J.'s editorial assistant. You can reach him at gabriel@jweekly.com and follow him on Twitter @ggreschler.