Students of all ages from the Pico Youth and Family Center marched to City Hall together Friday, August 3 for one cause: to organize a rally in a lobbying effort to ban plastic straws.

The students, ranging from 7-13 years of age, took part in the PYFC’s Social Justice & Mindfulness Summer camp, which taught them several tenets of how to advocate for social change.

When picking a social cause to advocate for, Oscar de la Torre, the PYFC executive director, said students cycled through several causes that “directly affect them and their neighborhoods” such as poverty, homelessness, and racism.

While the topics were worth advocating for, students felt they could make an immediate impact on the ocean, by banning plastic straws at local restaurants, relieving the ocean of plastic pollutants that kill marine wildlife.

During the summer camp, students teamed up with The Plastic Oceans Foundation, a global non-profit organization that helps with awareness campaigns to address plastic in the ocean.

With help from the non-profits and community volunteers, students researched the plastic straw ban in Malibu and how it could be implemented in Santa Monica. They came up with solutions such as planning petitions and organizing a march, created an action plan, and eventually followed through on their planning with the rally.

At the rally, students held signs, shouted chants through megaphones, and gave speeches outside of city hall.

“We’re here to protect our Mother Earth,” said Oscar de la Torre Jr. “We came here with a mission: to spread awareness and take a step in the right direction. Banning straws in Santa Monica is a step in the right direction. Ban the straws, change the laws!”

The senior de la Torre, making a brief appearance before heading to a court case that could change Santa Monica’s election system, spoke to the students, lauding their efforts, saying this kind of social action is what he envisioned for the social justice summer camp.

“We learned in social justice summer camp that fighting for rights isn’t just done in the streets, but also in courts. Civil, women’s, Native American, and environmental rights, they used this court to make this change and we will too.”

Julie Anderson, Global Executive Director of the Plastic Oceans Foundation, said she was proud of the results, hoping the ban of plastic straws in Malibu spreads to Santa Monica and starts a chain reaction of plastic straw banning.

If the ban doesn’t succeed, Anderson said she’s proud of what the PYFC students have accomplished.

“What I’m most excited about is these kids becoming empowered to become part of society. There is no small change. Every action is part of a big solution and creates a wave of change, one that we need.”

angel@smdp.com