Lacy Tooker-Kirkevold was a climate storyteller featured during our Youth Convening Minnesota project at the convening in Moorhead, Minnesota.
Throughout my youth I attended a bible camp in Amery, Wisconsin every Summer.
It was on a huge beautiful lake, so every morning we would have to bundle up in our sweatshirts on our way to breakfast, and every evening we got to experience the most beautiful sunset while we gathered around the campfire to worship. I hold these memories close to heart; I realized that this is one of the origins of my passion for the environment.
Camp was an escape for me and a way for me to grow closer to God and deeper in my faith. Not only did I learn about God’s creation, but I learned in and through God’s creation. When I left camp, I would experience God the most in nature. When I was having a rough day or needed guidance I would go to the park or sit and just listen. I realized that my faith came from my experiences in nature and at camp. That realization fueled me to bring this passion and spirituality into every other part of my life.
Fast forward to today: I am a senior in college graduating with a degree in political science and environmental studies.
My friends know me as their resident sustainability guru. I try to live my life in the most sustainable way possible when I can, even if it means sacrificing convenience or comfortability.
In college I have had the opportunity to go on a sustainability focused spring break trip, be a part of my school’s student environmental alliance, attend a sustainability conference in Texas, be on the president’s sustainability council, and hold the inaugural position of the sustainability advocate for my college’s student government association.
But I would not have even thought of doing these things without being taught the power of my voice.
During my freshman year, I entered my first year of college speech after four years of a mediocre high school speech career—with no idea what I was getting myself into. I was met by a team that seemed way more inteligient, poised, and eloquent then I had ever felt in my entire life. That first week I was handed an informative speech topic about a product called Fairphone, and that is where it all began.
As I was researching Fairphone, I was learning about how inequitable our world of technological innovation is.
There are parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo where communities are being sold into slavery by warlords to work in precious metal mines that pollute the groundwater, just so that we can have a new phone every two years. As I was doing this research, I would go to my coach, Adam, and vent about how depressing all of this was and ask him how we can talk about this stuff, but not act on it.
What he told me has stuck with me ever since: “Use your voice, champ.”
Adam was the first one who showed me the power of my voice, and I honestly don’t think he knew what he was getting into. I went from a shy quiet freshman who would do her own research alone in a corner to someone who refused to back down in the face of injustice. Speech taught me the power of words, but forgot to mention that sometimes I need to sit down and listen as well.
When the NoDAPL movement started in the Spring of 2016, I became concerned with the potential for environmental catastrophe in our area. As the first camp on the reservation was built to protest the pipeline, my friends and I here in Moorhead knew that we wanted to get involved. So in the fall of 2016, we decided to plan a protest on campus.
It was successful, with almost 45 people joining and even making the local news channels and newspaper. The success of this protest fueled us to keep going. From there we planned two more larger protests on the veterans memorial bridge and in front of the Fargo police station to protest the Fargo Police presence at Standing Rock.
But it wasn’t until we actually went out to Standing Rock to deliver supplies that I saw I wasn’t being as helpful as I wanted to be.
The big issue with Standing Rock wasn’t just the environmental harm that would come as a result of the pipeline, but rather who it would directly affect: an already disenfranchised, unheard, and minority population.
This is when the term “environmental racism” really started to become real and tangible to me. It is a well-documented fact that communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by polluting industries and lax regulation of these industries. And that is exactly what happened at Standing Rock.
When I was there, I had the chance to speak with members of the affected tribe and many other Native American tribes who had similar stories to share. I learned that it may be my fight, but it isn’t my story. This didn’t mean that I shouldn’t fight for them and with them, but rather that I should not be the one on the news or being quoted in the newspaper.
I should be using my privilege to uplift the voices, stories, and struggles of these communities.
My voice was only propagating the unequal weight that different voices bear.
Since then, I have realized that environmental advocacy and sustainability is not accessible to everyone. As a white, cisgender, able-bodied female from a middle class family, I grew up with recycling and composting being the norm in my community. But I now know that that is not the case for most of the United States.
So as I strive to be an advocate for sustainability, I try and do so in the most conscientious way possible. I started posted videos and pictures on my social media showing glimpses into what I do in my day-to -day life to be more sustainable, and I got surprising results. Ever since I started doing this, I’ve had over 40 different people message me asking about how they can make their own toothpaste or what products are less environmentally harmful.
I learned that many people just don’t know where to start and are looking to the people around them for guidance.
If we can start spreading the message of sustainability to our friends and family, eventually it will just become a part of our culture.
We need to make sure we are including all voices and not leaving anyone out of this conversation, because it affects us all.
I am proud of the small milestones that I have overcome in being more sustainable like cutting out plastic and buying all my food locally, but I am not the future. I am merely a placeholder. The kids who put together this convening and their peers are the future.
My generation will continue to push and spread the word of sustainability, but the students are going to be the ones who make the culture-wide change. Thank you to my family, friends, and coaches who have supported me in advocating for sustainability, but thank you all especially for caring enough to show up and talk about this, because it will take all of us to save the planet that we all call home.
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