Youth Activists Are Building An Intersectional Climate Justice Movement

A few weeks ago a group of young people, including myself, stood in front of Senator Diane Feinstein to ask for her help in saving our future. These young people, representing Earth Guardians, Youth vs. Apocalypse and Sunrise Movement, were told that we were too young to understand the ways of the world and would not accomplish anything with our persistence. Feinstein claimed there was not enough money to enact the Green New Deal and that she knew the right way to get things done.

Youth speaking with Diane Feinstein

This encounter not only highlighted the lack of willpower in our current governing bodies, it also emphasized the vast chasm between how those in power choose to view climate change, and how those in frontline communities, especially youth, have no choice but to see the dire implications of how this changing planet will affect our futures.

Global and national governing bodies still seem to only see the abstract concept of climate change as it relates to our economic systems – capping CO2 emissions, mitigating pollution, more renewable energy, etc. Climate change is so much bigger than economics, peoples’ lives and homes are at risk. Our collective home is at risk. As Bioneer Heather McGee said recently on Meet the Press, “There is no higher responsibility of anyone with any kind of political power right now than to try to stop a global catastrophe that’s not happening in three generations. It’s happening now.”

Young people will not wait for old-world politics to keep moving chess pieces around. We don’t have the time. We have twelve years, if that. We went to Feinstein’s office because we know that our future, and the futures of those that come after us, are at stake. And we know we cannot do it without standing together across race, class, gender and borders. We know we need to speak up for economic justice and against environmental racism when we talk about solutions to climate change. The Green New Deal, initially put together by Sunrise and proposed by Sen. Markey and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, is the only legislation on the table that not only addresses climate change, but also creates good jobs and addresses inequality in our current socioeconomic system.

Youth are building new models for social movements, ones that include self-care to avoid burnout, caring for each other because this is the beloved community we are stepping into the world with and caring for our earth because she gives us life. From Parkland to Sweden to Oakland to India and Brazil, young people are no longer sitting back and waiting for older generations to make the change we know needs to happen. The activists of this next generation will need to be fearless and resilient. They will need to rely on one one another, and lead with intersectionality and solidarity.  

Inspired by Greta Thunberg’s strike that began in August of 2018 outside of the Swedish Parliament, on March 15th over 1.4 million youth in 123 countries around the world participated in a Global Climate Strike. Bioneers joined some of our youth partners at the Bay Area Climate Strike where over 1000 young people participated in the march led by Youth vs. Apocalypse.

Poppy, a Native American high school student offering a blessing

The speakers began with a Native American high school student named Poppy who honored the Native stewards of the land. The following line-up of youth speakers ranged in age from 10-16 and represented the diverse backgrounds of people that live in the Bay Area. Many of these youth centralized their experience as youth of color growing up in Oakland. One young woman named Hannah Estrada voiced, “In order to go forward ethically, we need to acknowledge the generations of communities of color who have suffered from pollution. Living and growing up in polluted communities has brought us [all] here. Sometimes we forget that communities of color have been living like this for years.”

Toward the end of the day, youth leader Isha Clarke identified that there were a lot of white faces in the audience and followed up by saying, “Thank you for being here, we need you as allies, and for this movement to be intersectional we need to centralize the voices of native youth and youth of color. We also need you to show up for racial justice and economic justice in your communities.”

Isha Clarke of Youth vs. Apocalypse

Youth today, across a spectrum of backgrounds, recognize the ways in which communities are being marginalized and hurt by outdated political systems, exploitative economics and social constructs that divide us from seeing our shared humanity. They see how important it is to have diverse leaders speaking from their own experiences, calling in others who have historically felt left out of the conversation.

As Edna Chavez stated in her 2018 keynote at Bioneers,” We need to focus on changing the underlying conditions that foster violence and trauma in the first place…People need to listen to us, this is our moment as young people. As black and brown youth leaders, we need to use our voices to be more inclusive in these conversations, to share our stories, to reclaim our power, and most importantly to hold policy makers accountable…Those in power need to remember that we are the future.”

For more day to day updates and pictures about what the Bioneers Youth Leadership Program and our partners are doing, follow us on instagram @bioneersyouthleaders

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