Young Climate Activists and Two Grandmas

by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea
Reposted from PeerSpirit Newsletter – October 2019
On the morning of Friday September 20, we joined about 150 islanders in a mix of grey-haired steadfastness and teenage enthusiasm marching several blocks through town from the local branches of Wells Fargo Bank to Chase Bank – the two financial corporations most deeply investing in the fossil fuels industry. We olders followed the youngers, being allies who can “show up and step back,” allowing a new generation of voices to speak and lead. We listened to speeches from local South Whidbey High School students, including two of the organizers of the recent Friday for Future youth climate strikes in Freeland, Washington.
It was a humbling and beautiful moment: pride in these youth and the spirit of the day with an estimated 4 million people like us gathered world-wide; and grief that we, who have been on the streets since the first Earth Day 49 years ago, now find ourselves in a fight for the life of the planet. We are struck by both the “power of one,” and the “power of the collective.” And we want to honor the teen climate activists of many races, nationalities, and ages. We honor the millions of “kids” who are demanding, not asking, that adults pay attention to their future well-being. The most basic demand is that world leaders develop a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to zero by 2050 and the most heart-breaking demand is that we care!
Greta Thunberg at the European Parliament (photo from Wikipedia)



One of the most visible of these young leaders is sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg of Sweden who a year ago sat alone in front of her Parliament offices in Stockholm, and has inspired hundreds of thousands of other young people to rise up in a clarion call to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and their greenhouse effect on earth’s temperatures. Since arriving in North America (via sailboat!) in the fall of 2019 she has met with former U.S. President Barack Obama, Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau, and her impassioned speech to the United Nations made us weep. 

Greta does not march alone, nor does she lead alone. Part of what inspires us about this self-organizing movement is that it operates on the principles of The Circle Way – leadership rotates, responsibility is shared, and ultimate reliance is on the spirit of the group. And the faces of leadership are a diverse array of international 21st century teens. Here are a few of those whose names were featured in a CNN article by Leah Asmelash on Monday, Sept.30, 2019: 
Isra Hirsi, 16
Daughter of Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar, is one of the co-founders of the US Youth Climate Strike. She attended the UN Youth Climate Summit and focuses on working with groups disproportionately affected by climate change.
Autumn Peltier, 15
Since the age of 8, this young First Nations activist from the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory in Canada has been an activist for clean water. At the age of 12 she confronted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about his policy on pipeline projects. She continues her fight for water conservation and Indigenous rights.
Bruno Rodriguez, 19
Another attendee of the UN Youth Climate Summit at the end of September 2019, this young Argentinian is challenging corporate pollution in his home city of Buenos Aires.
Helena Gualinga, 17
Her voice comes from the Ecuadorian Amazon where she is confronting recent fires and increasing deforestation. Her work focuses on advocacy for other indigenous people. “By protecting indigenous peoples’ rights, we protect billions of acres of land from exploitation,” she posted on Instagram in August 2019.
Mari Copeny, 12
Her nickname is “Little Miss Flint.” At the age of 8 she wrote a letter to then-president Barack Obama about the Flint water crisis that inspired him to fly to Flint and bring much needed attention to the situation. Now in middle school, her work continues as she marches for drinkable water. She started #WednesdaysForWater. 
Xiye Bastida
A teenage climate activist in New York City, she has been one of the lead organizers in the Fridays for Future youth climate strike movement. In March of 2019 she organized 600 students from her school. She was born and raised in Mexico as part of the Otomi-Toltec indigenous peoples. In 2018 she received a “Spirit of the UN” award.
This moment requires multi-generational action. The youngers are doing their job as awakeners. We olders need to join them on the streets and then work together to influence change in the halls of city governments, county commissioners, tribal governing councils, state legislatures, and national government meetings! We need their forthright courage; they need our experience and protection. And most of all: we need each other. 
We need to step together into an era of shift beyond anything we (in the comfortable western nations) have experienced. We need to break our patterns of consumerism and comfort and exercise our power. Change like this rises from the bottom up, from the young to the old, from the disempowered to the powerful. The people, together. 
Who is leading the climate efforts in your local community? How are you helping? Or how can you help?