THROUGH POLITICAL ACTION
Long before you can vote (which may be the most important thing you will ever do – at every opportunity, locally and nationally) you can get involved politically.
Young people are driving political action at an unprecedented level. We’ve made history. We’re organizing on local and global scales and have transformed the climate fight.
In 2015, before Greta Thunberg broke into our consciousness as a fifteen year old fighting climate change, 21 young people filed a lawsuit against the federal government for threatening their “fundamental constitutional rights to freedom from deprivation of life, liberty, and property.” The suit is ongoing and the majority of the children are now old enough to vote.
On December 15, 2018, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, then 15 years old, addressed world leaders at the UN conference on climate change. Writer and activist Naomi Klein praised Thunberg for her moral clarity and for galvanizing young people, who found a sense of agency in her #FridaysforFuture strikes. Her school strikes became a worldwide phenomenon with more than 7.6 million people joining the global climate strike on September 20, 2019.
A year before Greta started striking, Seattle 15-year old Jamie Margolin co-founded the protest group Zero Hour. She’s lobbied state lawmakers and is part of a group of youths suing Washington state over greenhouse-gas emissions. On September 18, 2019, Jamie testified before a U.S. House of Representatives committee alongside Greta Thunberg.
In 2019, 17-year-old Irsa Hirsi co-founded the U.S. Youth Climate Strike Coalition. This alliance of eight US-based youth-led climate groups came together, mobilized Future Coalition, and planned the US marches of 2019. The daughter of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, she is driven by her identity as a Black Muslim woman and has been a longtime advocate for intersectionality and diversity within the climate justice movement. Her experiences have taught her why it’s so important that those disproportionately affected by climate change are at the forefront of the issue, and why the climate movement needs more people like her.
The Sunrise Movement, perhaps the most prominent youth movement today, was founded by Sara Blazevic and Varshini Prakash, both 24 years old in 2017. The group’s assertive tactics have brought a profound awareness to the climate crisis. Their November 2018 sit-in at Nancy Pelosi’s office alongside Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez put the Green New Deal in the spotlight of the mainstream media. In February 2019, Sunrise Movement delivered a 100,000 signatures petition and staged a sit-in at Mitch McConnell’s office, demanding the Green New Deal. They have also pushed Democrats running for president to release serious, detailed plans to drastically cut America’s fossil fuel emissions.
The 2020 COVID pandemic didn’t stop youth activists. In fact, April 2020 saw the first Digital Earth Day, and the first-ever virtual Youth Environmental Summit took place in August 2020. Greta Thunberg took her Fridays for Future climate strike online and urged supporters to “find new ways to create public awareness and advocate for change” such as posting photos with your protest sign on social media with hashtags.
Sunrise Movement has shifted its electoral strategy to focus almost entirely on phone banking and friend-to-friend organizing — encouraging people to talk to their friends and relatives directly about the candidates they support. The Down Ballot Disruption Project teaches young people over Zoom how to canvas for candidates in their local elections and how to build a social media community around their activism.
The pandemic helped young people pivot to focus on educating more people about the climate crisis through targeted online campaigns, distributing educational material and encouraging virtual training and webinars.
The youth climate movement has become so profound and so poignant that communication experts have studied how young people have successfully captured the world’s attention. Even the dictionary recognized “climate strike” as 2019’s Word of the Year.
1 in 4 American teens are now taking action to fight the climate crisis. There is a place for everyone when it comes to climate activism. Whether you’re volunteering, using art and text to educate others, or voting, you are part of the work. No one is too small to make a difference.
THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Illustrations by Kathleen Founds