From crippling drought to Hurricane Sandy, and overall record-breaking temperatures extremes across the country, it’s hard to ignore the effects of climate change. The American people recognize that the climate is changing. President Obama’s inaugural speech included a call to action on climate change and organizers across the country intend to hold him to it – starting with the rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline. That’s why the Will Steger Foundation along with 120+ organizations across the US have joined the Sierra Club and 350.org to launch Forward On Climate rally, expected to be the largest climate rally in U.S. history - February 17th on the National Mall in Washington DC. 350.org is calling it “the largest symbol of hope for a safe climate future that this country has ever seen,” with tens of thousands of people expected to attend.
Young people are expected to make up a large number of the participants with organizations like the Energy Action Coalition, League of Young Voters, the Hip Hop Caucus, and the Sierra Student Coalition organizing massive youth turnout across the U.S. The President’s inaugural address hit home for a generation of young Americans deeply committed to tackling the most pressing issue of our time.
“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.” - Barack Obama, January 22nd, 2013
In the words of Maura Cowley, Energy Action Coalition’s young Executive Director: “The inaugural address felt like both a validation of all the work we’ve been doing, and a renewed call to action.” Two years ago, Maura and a small group of key youth leaders sat down across the table from the President. “I will never forget his words,” she wrote in a recent blog post, “’Your job is to push me’.” Youth across the country are working tirelessly to do just this.
For Midwest youth, the call to action is tied closely to a deep sense of place and regional identity. The Upper Midwest is home to some of the United State’s largest industrial and agricultural centers and a major emitter of greenhouse gasses. The region is poised to play a pivotal role in America’s clean energy future because of this strong industrial base, as well as its vast potential for generating power from wind and other renewable sources, and the crucial role of its Congressional delegations in shaping national energy policy.
Student organizers in Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Michigan and Minnesota have been deeply involved in the coal fight, successfully organizing to transition their campuses off of coal and joining larger coalitions to close municipal plants such as the Fisk and Crawford coal plants in Chicago. Members of the Ohio Student Environmental Coalition have been working tirelessly with partners across the state to halt the unregulated fracking boom currently underway. In Minnesota and Michigan, students are lobbying for clean energy policies at the state level and modeling sustainability initiatives in a wide range of communities.
Across the Midwest youth are organizing in large numbers to send delegations to the Forward on Climate rally – most traveling by bus. Liz Starke, Coordinator for the Michigan Student Sustainability Coalition, feels the momentum building and sees 2013 as the time to focus on “building power, in our movement and network and in our students.” The rally provides an opportunity to energize youth climate networks across the U.S., and send the message loud and clear that a generation of young people demand action to ensure a clean and just energy future.
A preliminary count of Midwest youth turnout for the rally includes (as of February 12th) at a minimum:
- Ohio - 275
- Missouri - 110
- Indiana - 75
- Michigan - 55
- Illinois - 50
- Minnesota - 25
- Iowa - bringing a delegation
- Nebraska - bringing a delegation
The Will Steger Foundation is committed to empowering youth climate leadership across the Midwest as a critical means to winning on climate. We are proud to support a delegation of high school students from our Youth Environmental Activists Minnesota (YEA! MN) program who will be joining the rally and sharing their experiences through video and blogs. Stay tuned!