February 18, 2016

Growing Youth Leadership

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Hello, my name is Cassie, and I am a millennial.

My age group is often underestimated. We’re viewed as lazy and are often critiqued for our reliance on technology. In coalitions, the youth voice is often underrepresented and under-heard.

In my 22 years of life, however, I have seen student and non-student youth accomplish incredible things. I have seen weekend-long climate conferences planned, protests and sit-ins organized, and educational summits facilitated. The youth voice in the climate movement is strong, and it is growing.

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Most recently, young environmentalists (ages 13 – 30) organized the #ClipperIsTheNewKXL rally of over 150 people outside of the Democratic Presidential Debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Youth tar sand pipeline fighters showed up in force to let the candidates know that our state and our region can no longer be a fossil fuel sacrifice zone for pipeline expansion after expansion.

The dedication and energy of the activists standing outside for hours in 17 degree weather was evident. Art, songs, chants, speeches, and cheers were abundant. The majority of those activists were youth (ages 13 – 30), and many were students from Wisconsin.

Eight campuses in the University of Wisconsin system were represented, in addition to high school students from rural Wisconsin and college students from Kalamazoo, Michigan and Minneapolis, Minnesota. Many students also spoke at the rally, highlighting their concern for the safety of our future and our planet.

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Even more impressive than the attendance of the rally was the behind-the-scenes work that youth in Wisconsin poured into planning this action – defying the stereotypes of our generations.

Students from Steven’s Point, River Falls, and Stout organized outreach and recruitment efforts – using Skype video calling to speak at the meetings without needing use gas to travel around the state. Students from Milwaukee and some surrounding communities came together for an art build – creating a three-panel banner and large oil droplet posters. Students from Madison and Milwaukee assisted with logistical pieces – researching security and parking options for rally attendees. Youth from across the region led a social media charge with the hashtag #ClipperIsTheNewKXL to create pressure online, and several others wrote op-eds to local papers.

Planning a large rally outside of a presidential debate is not easy, as it turns out. However, with a strong team of youth leadership, a beautiful action came out of a lot of hard work. I am proud to identify as a youth activist and to see the growing leadership of my peers.

Beyond this very exciting action, we continued our work into the next day with a #SpringForward strategy session where we already started diving into our next tactics to stop these pipelines, improve our political system, and protect our climate. My 25 peers who were part of that strategy session were tireless, strong, creative and brave.

795 I am hopeful that this involvement with environmental issues and with the tar sands coalition continues, and that the youth contingency of the tar sands movement continues with this momentum moving forward. I believe that the climate movement in the Midwest can gain much-needed energy to continue to fight in this heavy political climate by building strong, young leaders who are open to cross-issue movement building and new, creative ideas.

I am thankful for the allies who have supported youth-led actions and who work with youth to develop leadership. Without staff and volunteers in the Sierra Club - John Muir Chapter, MN350, 350 Madison, Climate Generation and Energy Action Coalition, I would not have become this involved in the environmental movement.

I hope that as I grow older I will continue to be an ally to youth and to build up the next generations rather than stereotype them into boxes or discount their ideas.

Because when my generation becomes the utility ratepayer, the head-of-household, and the transportation decision-maker, we are prepared to make greater demands for sustainability, clean transit, and renewable energy.

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