Youth Movements Changing Tactics in the Face of Climate Crisis


Back in 2015, a group of youth warriors bravely filed a lawsuit against the federal government for failing to protect their right to life and liberty by willfully ignoring the dangers of climate change. Last month, the 21 plaintiffs of Juliana v. United States gathered under the same roof for the first time in quite a while at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. The group convened with leaders of the most powerful movements of our time to share their experiences and discuss what need to be done to address our climate crisis.

The youth plaintiffs were joined at the “Changing Tactics in the Face of Climate Emergency” by leaders of the most vivid movements of our time, lifting up organizing systems that are multiracial, where women hold primary positions of power and political leadership. Vic Barrett, one of the youth plaintiffs, was on the panel with Julia Olson, the executive director of Our Children’s Trust and the legal representation in the lawsuit, 350.org communications manager Thanu Yakupitiyage, and Sara Blazevic, the co-founder and managing director of the Sunrise Movement.

Sunrise is building the power of youth to urge the country to take climate change seriously while reclaiming democracy. Addressing the crisis, Sunrise says, means ending the influence of fossil fuel profiteers on American politics and creating good jobs to update national infrastructure. The group skyrocketed to national headlines after occupying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office to demand Congress pass a Green New Deal. Blazevic told the crowd that Sunrise organizers had dedicated months of time to winning back the House of Representatives for Democrats. “We thought they owed us more than lip service on the biggest issue facing our generation,” she said.

“We need to transform our entire economy to prevent [the climate crisis] and we also have an incredible opportunity to create millions of good jobs and actually increase equity and justice in this country in the process,” Blazevic said. “Sunrise is protesting to bring the crisis to the forefront of the minds of every American and bring the urgency of those fires, floods and droughts we hear the plaintiffs talk about from our television screens to our politicians’ scripts.”

Resistance to this transformative vision for our society comes from the very people sworn in to govern and create ways to work with — not against – our natural resources, to provide us all with the ability to prosper. Putting climate change at the top of the political agenda is just the first step, Blazevic went on to say. “We are also working to elect candidates up and down the ballot who can advance the kinds of solutions we need for this crisis and build the power we need to govern and create an America that works for all of us.”

Our Children’s Trust has opted to take this battle to the courts – a branch of government often forgotten in the fight against climate change. The organization is elevating the voice of youth and creating a platform that will force people in power to listen to them, Olson said. Understanding of our shared responsibility for the health of our environment goes as far back as 1818, Olson said, when James Madison addressed changing climate from deforestation at the Address to the Agricultural Society of Albemarle. “The atmosphere is the breath of life without which we all perish,” Olson said, quoting Madison’s speech.

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