Young Santa Rosa climate activist in wheelchair a week into hunger strike


Ema Govea spent her summer marching 266-miles through wildfire-ravaged Northern California to protest what she describes as deadly, irresponsible inaction on climate change and to demand jobs in a green economy.

It was taxing, but now the Credo High School senior from Santa Rosa has taken her activism to a whole new level.

Govea and four other activists have not eaten food in more than a week. They hope their hunger protest will draw attention to what they see as the dismantling of any substantive climate change action in President Joe Biden’s once $3.5 trillion spending agenda.

They have held vigil outside the White House since Oct. 20, taking in just water, electrolytes and a daily vitamin, Govea said.

A week in and sapped of energy, Govea is now largely using a wheelchair. But she seemed heartened by the message and its spread.

“They don’t want to have dying kids on their doorstep,” Govea said by phone earlier this week. “I also know we are going to stay out here until we get a deal and that this bill includes climate legislation. And also we are going to stay out here until Biden keeps his promises to cut climate emissions in half by 2030.”

Govea, 18, said she is confident the president knows about the hunger strike just outside his office door.

Al-Jazeera wrote about their campaign Oct. 22. Their group was visited by Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and Congressman Jamaal Bowman on Tuesday.

In a video posted to Instagram, Tlaib called the five “courageous” and “climate justice warriors.”

“They are putting their lives at stake,” she said with tears in her eyes. “I wish they didn’t have to do this.”

But Govea says she has no choice.

“I do feel like it is a duty in a way,” she said. “It’s an unfortunate fact and it sucks, but by the politicians failing and folding and being cowards right now, it has become the duty of young people to demand our survival.”

Time is of the essence for Govea and her fellow hunger strikers, as well as the federal spending deal.

On the same morning Govea was waking up to her fifth day of no food, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia was eating breakfast at President Biden’s home in Wilmington, Del, according to the New York Times.

It is of course Manchin, the coal brokerage firm-owning Democrat, who has openly derided inclusion of the Clean Energy Performance program which would reward utilities for going clean and penalize those that do not move fast enough away from things like … coal.

Manchin, while adhering to conflict of interest rules, made twice as much in 2020 from his coal brokerage business than he did as a U.S. Senator, according to annual filings.

Manchin, along with his ally in cynical chaos, Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, maintains a stranglehold on Biden’s proposal and Democrat’s prospects for passing it. Manchin is not the only yes vote Democrats may lose, but he’s the guy with the heftiest demands.

Hence, personal breakfasts with Biden.

Govea, for one, finds it disgusting.

“Joe Manchin, we know, is a very corrupt politician. We know that he makes millions off of the coal industry and we know that he gets a lot of money from the fossil fuel industry,” she said.

For Biden to be eating breakfast, let alone deal making with Manchin, is to turn his back on a core promise that got him elected, she said.

“These backdoor deals with Manchin? Making these behind-the-scenes deals? Those always hurt us,” she said. “Joe Biden needs to make a public stand against Joe Manchin and the fossil fuel industry and really fight for his bill in a really public way.”

As the prospects for the passage of Biden’s complete grow dimmer by the day.

The international climate summit in Glasgow opens Sunday. If Biden shows up without any progress on U.S. climate policy, the U.S. will have little leverage when it comes to pushing other nations to act.

And other nations are watching. And waiting. But Govea said she couldn’t wait. Or watch. She had to act.

“This is a political window that who knows when we will have again,” Govea said.

“We elected Biden on his climate promises. Young people elected Biden, we turned out, going door-to-door. We wrote letters, we campaigned for him, we worked to get the democratic majority elected. Politically, he has the majority and we don’t know when that will happen again,” she said.

“Every day, every month, every year we don’t take action is devastating,” she said. “Millions of peoples’ lives are resting on it.”

Govea said Wednesday she’s feeling increasingly listless and tired.

On Wednesday in a video chronicling the effort posted to Instagram, Govea sat in a wheelchair behind a large yellow sign that read: “Biden: Keep your promises, we want to live.”

The five activists are monitored twice a day by a volunteer doctor, Govea said. Her vital signs are recorded and her weight is checked. If she drops too much too fast it poses a threat to her overall health.

“I’m pretty tired and weak. It’s a lot. It’s day 8,” she said. “I can’t really walk that much anymore. I’m feeling really, really tired.”

She goes between fierce, but fatigued resolve, to wonder what will happen if no deal is made and Biden heads to Glasgow having failed to deliver.

“It just can’t happen right?” she said. “The stakes are so high.”

You can reach Staff Columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or On Twitter @benefield.


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