I remember a hot, sticky day in mid-July in Washington DC sitting on my friend’s roof on a conference call with all my friends and committee members back in Minnesota, straining to hear what they were all saying. I couldn’t really hear what was happening but I could hear passion through the phone lines, people were getting ideas, and getting excited. We were brainstorming ideas for an event that would later develop into Youth CAN! (Youth Climate Action Now). This event took place November 8th at El Colegio High School. We had students from all over the Twin Cities metro-area, Wisconsin, and even Northfield and Worthington.
Youth CAN! became a reality. Lots of people showed up, we had 3 keynote speakers, 12 different workshops and a huge group discussion about the intersectionalities between social justice issues, environmental justice and activism. It was so completely extraordinary to be in a beautiful space with so many cool people with shared passions from different backgrounds, cultures, and places all over the area.
After working so hard on this event and investing a lot of time, it was incredible to see the event happen in real life after months of emails, phone calls, and all things not so physically real. In this long period of time I learned so much about planning events like this; how to gauge time when planning, how to write emails to people I don’t know, and how to realistically plan given the time and resources you have at hand. I think though the most important thing I learned was that youth can, no matter how ironic it is, or cheesy, youth can! Youth can plan, and we actually did! Youth can organize, and have passion, and most of all youth care. I know a lot of adults do, but youth care. It’s our future and we stand up for it, which gives me a lot of hope.
Something else that gave me a lot of hope was our opening keynote speaker Kim Wasserman. She is the director at LVEJO (Little Village Environmental Justice Organization), raising two kids, and after 12 years of fighting to get a coal plant shut down in her neighborhood she, LVEJO, and Little Village residents shut it down. First off, 12 years is a ridiculous amount of time to keep up the fight, and to have kept up passion, inspiration, and the determination to do this for that long, I am eternally in awe. I loved the way Kim Wasserman presented herself to us. She was real. She told us the facts and she told us the way she had a solution. You can see Kim Wasserman’s Goldman Prize interview here.
Another thing that gave me a lot of hope was the amount of people that came for our free, all-day event. About two weeks before the event we were starting to get a little stressed out about attendance, all this hard work we had been putting in, all the speakers and presenters would be putting in, and whether it would all be worth it. In the end we had about 160 people at the height of the day. Our original goal was 100.
Participating in YouthCAN! and through planning, I have come to realize that there is a lot of terrible stuff going on in the world. But there are people who care, people who drive 2 hours to go to a conference, people who take their Saturdays to talk about social justice, and people who, everyday, are spreading what they believe in a million different ways. To me that is hope.