We are the ones we’ve been waiting for

As we made our way into the air conditioned church on New York Avenue in Washington, D.C. after a full day of meeting with Sen. Al Franken and Rep. Betty McCollum; attending a workshop; and showing up for an action, a change of pace from the hot, humid and packed day was welcome. We had left the previous action at the United States Capitol to arrive here just in time to pick up some last minute snacks, register, and head upstairs as the People’s Climate March Youth Convening was starting. The New York Avenue Church space was bustling with young people from all over the country; some sat in the pews in groups while others were still coming in as the organizers began explaining the agenda for the rest of the day. The leaders of the event – some of whom were students at colleges and universities, while others were full-time organizers – introduced themselves, where they came from, and the work they do. Once we had a grasp on the framework of the day and event logistics, the keynote speakers began.

The first speaker was none other than Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, the youth leader of Earth Guardians and a well known voice in the climate movement. He and 21 other youth plaintiffs are suing the U.S. government for violating their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness due to its flagrant disregard for the environment. Xiuhtezcatl performed one of his songs, and spoke about the youth he recently connected with on a cross-country college tour, rising up, taking action and gaining momentum. Hearing him speak was really powerful; the way he uses music as a tool for self-expression and sharing his experiences in the movement for climate justice is incredible.

Check out Earth Guardians and all they do, including videos of some of the RYSE (Rising Youth for a Sustainable Earth) members and more details about the federal court case.

Alexis Whitehat speaks. Photo credit: Devon Cupery

The other speakers were also extremely powerful. Alexis Whitehat from the Dakota/Lakota Sioux spoke about her involvement in the fight for clean water, and her experiences at Standing Rock. It was so inspiring to hear another young voice advocating, encouraging and sharing why she was there in D.C. but also why this work matters. Stephen O’Hanlon shared his story and experiences working for divestment at Swarthmore. Yong Jung Cho, who was a lead organizer for the People’s Climate March of 2014 in New York, talked about starting the #AllofUs campaign and working to recruit people to run for office so that we can replace the fossil fuel-dependent political class with folks who know the communities they run for and believe in climate justice. Check out Yong Jung Cho’s initiative, #AllofUs, and read more about her and some of her incredible work. Adria Peterkin also spoke to us about her passion for environmental engineering: as a student at Howard, she works with the HBCU Environmental Justice Consortium. She shared how she is a voice in her community, working with science to find solutions as well as taking action politically and socially. Last but not least, Nyiesha Mallet from NYC spoke as a young person making change in the city within frontline communities. She shared some of her work with UPROSE and her thoughts on the importance of intersectionality in this movement. In her view, “climate change is a racial issue.”

After all these incredible speakers, the leaders of the event walked us through a skills training for creating connections across different issues within this movement. The theme was resonance, a key aspect of listening to stories and using the power of stories to their full potential. During this big group workshop, we spoke with people from all over the country, listening to each other and answering the question “what is something that has been challenging for you?” It was powerful to speak to people we had never met while sharing something personal, and it was even more powerful hearing what people resonated with after sharing and using our stories as tools to build connections. Afterwards there were smaller workshops offered all over the church, including the High School Student Breakout led by YEA! MN and ACE youth leaders; Reframing “The Crisis”; Changing the Story to Build Power and Win; and The Target is the Public: Building Popular Support. I attended the last one and it was incredible to learn from leaders in the movement about the tools they use to build popular support for their campaigns in colleges and communities.

The convening wrapped up with networking, song, dancing, and delicious food and tabling by campaigns like #PutAPriceOnIt, Post-Landfill Action Network, Corporate Accountability International, and Sunrise Movement.

For me, the biggest takeaway from the event is the importance of intersectionality, as well as the power of every person using their passions and their experiences to tell their side of the story. Together, with all our unique strengths, we are keeping the momentum of this movement going forward; it was powerful to be surrounded by people I didn’t know, from places I have never been, telling their story, their reason for coming, for caring. All of those people standing next to me, standing together and being a part of this movement: we are the ones we have been waiting for.

YEA! MN alum Espoir DelMain is on her gap year after graduating from Great River School and before attending Dickinson College next fall. She works at the Bicycle Chain and is passionate about environmental justice and environmental education. You can see more of her work at medium.com/@espoirdelmain.

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