This is What Democracy Looks Like

Paul Thompson is the founder of Cool Planet and Volunteer Educator for the Will Steger Foundation and it’s YEA! MN program. Paul helped lead a delegation of nine Minnesota high school students to Power Shift 2011, a massive youth climate summit held in Washington DC, April 15018.

Here I am:

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Paul Thompson, Abby Fenton, and the YEA! MN high school delegation

Watching Zach, Taylor, Alec and Brock (from Stillwater High School) march down the National Mall holding the YEA! MN Banner and cheering “Clean Energy, Green Jobs” chants.

Gene standing in front of 200 Minnesota college students proposing an action group to oppose the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine in Arrowhead, Minnesota.

Siiri getting pulled out in the hall for an interview with USA Today because she was a high school student attending Power Shift 2011 in Washington DC with 10,000 other youth hungry to grow the Climate Solutions Movement.

Three days packed full of intense leadership training, squeezing in meals, riding the metro, late nights and early mornings. The nine high schoolers, two Stillwater Moms, Diane and Joy, Abby from the Will Steger Foundation (WSF), and myself representing YEA! MN (Youth Environmental Activists of Minnesota, a program of WSF) bounced between exhilaration and exhaustion. We came here to grow the Climate Solutions Movement and to dive into the revolution that this generation must embrace.

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YEA! MN students facilitate workshop on high school activism for fifty youth

With presentations from Van Jones (founder of Green for All), Bill McKibben (founder of 350.org), Lisa Jackson (EPA Director), and Al Gore, the youth were inspired by the older generational leaders of the Climate Solutions Movement. It didn’t stop there! High school and college students of color from some of the most affected areas in the USA by fossil fuel pollution addressed the crowd as plenary speakers. Ideas flowed. New creative thinking emerged about how to bring people together to confront the domination of the US Chamber of Commerce and it’s $132,000,000 lobbying budget for dismantling the EPA Clean Air Act, and their effective and well funded campaign to inject doubt into the crystal clear message of our best climate scientists…”It’s time to get moving on the climate crisis.”

I was so proud of how our YEA! MN youth lead their workshop engaging over 50 high school students from nine states in how to use the obstacles in their projects as steps to success in building local partnerships and expanding their reach towards a sustainable future. Each day I could see their leadership muscles grow as they bonded with each other and spoke of how to bring this experience back to their schools and communities in Minnesota.

YEA! MN students on the march to the US Capitol
YEA! MN students on the march to the US Capitol

Now we are home, facing the reality of maintaining this energy in creating this new dream for our state, country and planet. As Bill McKibben says: there’s no guarantee we’re going to win this battle, the odds are stacked against us as we’re up against the most powerful lobby in the history of money.

It’s a good thing this isn’t about money. We’d be finished for sure. The youth know this is about passion, creativity, art, music, and SPIRIT. “Every generation needs a revolution” said Thomas Jefferson, and this one is ours. Time to bring the pieces together and focus on why we are here.

After all, doesn’t 350 ppm mean People Powered Movement?

Go get your friends and GET TO WORK!

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