Over the past weekend, I attended a Youth Lobby Day workshop in preparation for Youth Lobby Day 2016 at the Minnesota State Capitol, which will take place on March 14. Going into the workshop, I didn’t know what to expect. When I got there, there were already a few other high school students there, along with some awesome snacks, thanks to the Birchwood Cafe! Once we actually began the workshop, we all sat in a circle and went over the agenda and goals that we all had for the day. There were about fifteen of us in total. Asha Long, with Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG), came and talked to us briefly about the Clean Power Plan (CPP): where it came from, what it is, and why it is important not only to have it, but to make it equitable. This was the first that I had heard any in depth information about the CPP. Before this, I had a general idea of what it was, but that was all. I learned even more about the CPP and why it was something worth lobbying for. She also discussed the intersectionality of environmental, racial, and economic disparities. This was something that I hadn’t consciously thought about before.
Once it was brought to my attention, I realized it was something I had seen and experienced first hand before. After Asha’s presentation, we went back to the idea of ‘equity’, and what it would mean to make the CPP equitable. We began talking about ‘environmental racism’, which is a term that I hadn’t heard of before. A lot was very new to me, but only in that I hadn’t ever been introduced to them formally. We did an activity where we talked with a partner answering various questions pertaining to environmental racism, how it affects us, and the experience that we’ve had with it. This helped me to really think about and explore my complex thoughts and ideas on the subject, and allowed me to recognize the times that I have witnessed environmental racism in my life. It was a very open and supportive environment, which made it easy to sort out my thoughts and emotions free of judgement or criticism. From there, we figured out how our personal stories and experiences fit into the CPP and its need to be racially, environmentally, and economically just. I personally found a story that I didn’t even realize I had until this workshop.
I grew up in Frogtown, which is seen as the ‘ghetto’ of St. Paul. It’s one of the poorer parts of St. Paul, and is a predominantly black neighborhood. I spent my entire childhood, and some of my adolescence, living there. About four years ago, I moved to the Como neighborhood, which is a more middle-class white neighborhood. The very first that I had heard anything about environmental justice, clean energy, or zero waste programs was when I moved into this neighborhood. I had managed to go my entire childhood without even hearing about clean energy, what it is, and why it’s important. It was no coincidence that as soon as I was in a higher class whiter environment I discovered these issues. They were simply not a part of the dialogue in my Frogtown community. Poor neighborhoods are often the most negatively affected by lack of clean energy, and yet there was no discussion happening about it in the many years that I lived in a poor neighborhood. This was a huge realization for me- I had seen environmental racism first hand. I think that it’s not a discussion in these communities because there is a lack of both information and accessibility to environmental issues. This is environmental racism, and it is why why need to ensure that the CPP is not only environmentally just, but also racially and economically just.
Next, we began to work on our technique for when we were actually talking to our legislator. We got into groups, set roles for each person (facilitator, storyteller, pivoter, and note taker), and had practice sessions with our ‘legislator’. This is when our stories became relevant. It was very powerful to have someone tell a personal anecdote about how and why it matters to them that the CPP is economically, racially, and environmentally just. After the practice lobbying sessions, we all commented and gave advice on how we could be lobbying more effectively. By the end, I felt completely confident about meeting with my legislatures and lobbying for an environmentally, economically and racially just Clean Power Plan for Minnesota.