So you marched for climate justice... now what?

Sylvana Widman ‘20

On March 15th, BHSEC students joined teens all over the world in walking out for the planet. Bard students walked out last year several times for gun control, and by now are used to the ease of reposting activist sound-bytes and brightly colored, strongly worded tweets. Organizing with like-minded individuals, too, has become commonplace with the advancement of social media. But this time around, more than one friend expressed to me concern that our actions were fruitless, that there would be no follow-up. Chants were recited with mild exhaustion. Despite being the leader of my own environmental activism group, I, too, felt ambivalent about the results of our rallying. Plus, I lost my scarf somewhere along the way to Columbus circle.  So for my well-meaning, socially aware pals I pose and try to answer the questions: What kind of value do our efforts have? Is this actually what democracy looks like?

To start, marching is not enough. This is a lukewarm take, I know. We’ve seen the cycle over and over - the people rally, the media applauds the people, the government is silent. Rinse and repeat. Teens know we’re good for something, but aside from encouraging your eight hundred sixteen-year-old Instagram followers to turn out for midterms, it’s often difficult to figure out exactly what our niche can be. The power of marching as a first step is instrumental.  What comes next is just as important.

The most essential part of any kind of activism is building an army. We elect politicians to support our interests, but the only way to guarantee this support is to prove we have critical mass and compel politicians to do our bidding. This is where marching comes in. With marching comes connections - meeting those with the same goal, forging a bond with a common interest - and proof that your cause is worth fighting for.  

As teens, we have limited strategies for making our voices heard. We cannot vote or run for office. But if Dr. Matthews or Professor Cho has ever made you watch Merchants of Cool, you know we are a huge economic market. Teens are a huge market in general, and as a result we have leverage.  Plus, when it comes down to it, the only thing that matters is the appearance of being a market, and calling the bluff of those craving our capital. Here is where youth endorsement of companies with green practices come in. Here is where youth boycott of irresponsible practices (think Divest Harvard) comes in. And, friends, here’s where lobbying comes in.

I run a student organization called the Youth Progressive Policy Group, which works to pass relevant bills through New York State Legislature in Albany. On April 29th, we will send a bus of students up to Albany (free for participating teens) to meet with legislators to try and pass the Climate and Community Protection Act, a bill set on mandating a just transition to entirely renewable energy in New York State. And even if you hate public speaking or don’t get. New York State politics, I want you there with us.

I get it. Missing a day of school to go convince politicians to vote for a piece of legislation you just heard of will sound like a blast to about ten people reading this, and five of those people are probably on the Model UN team. But here is where activism needs to meet action. Politicians pass bills if they think their constituents, especially future constituents, believe in it. I don’t pretend that YPPG is the solution to global warming, but it is an effective start. And if we say nothing, these old people will make our decisions for us. Now more than ever, we cannot let that happen. We have to build a youth army. Because the world depends on it.

If interested, check us out at yppg.org, email yppg.ny@gmail.com or just come talk to me