On Wednesday February 26th, over two hundred eager faces from all over the state of Minnesota gathered at the Good Neighbor Center across from the Capitol for the 2020 Youth Climate Justice Summit.
Throughout the day, students learned about climate change, intersectionality in the climate movement, gained independence by navigating the Capitol, and had positive, productive conversations with their elected officials. During the day, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to watch a documentary about the oil pipeline, Line 3, on the brink of construction through indigenous lands in northern Minnesota, called “LN3: Seven Teachings of the Anishinaabe in Resistance.” The film presented the story through seven values of the Anishinaabe: respect, truth, honesty, wisdom, humility, love, and courage. Throughout the day, I witnessed these seven values as youth connected with each other, adult mentors, and their elected officials. As someone who is not Anishinaabe, I reflect on the values below as one step to amplify the leadership and thinking of Anishinaabe people.
It was a day of respect. I witnessed respect in many interactions throughout the day. Students collaborating with each other, planning their legislative visit, listening to peers present about important climate justice topics, intently watching the Line 3 documentary, and showing respect to their elected officials, even when things weren’t going their way. I saw respect in the way youth were taken seriously and encouraged to share their story by volunteers and legislators alike (though not all elected officials demonstrated this respectful listening).
It was a day of truth. Truth for me, for my peers, for the adults volunteering and making the day a success, but most importantly, truth for the elected officials we visited and that visited us. We are here, and we will be here until we don’t have to be anymore. I witnessed youth speaking the truth to power. In the morning, every young person had a chance to speak with an elected official. I heard frustrating stories from students whose legislators didn’t agree with them. Still, they spoke their truth with the hopes that their legislators would understand. I witnessed many youth, including myself, becoming exposed to truth they had never considered. Some hadn’t heard about Line 3 outside of a news headline, and others hadn’t heard the term climate justice.
It was a day I learned that it is difficult to be truly honest. It is easy to stretch the truth, or to leave out part of the story. Legislators and elected officials attempt to convince you they are on your side, and agree with you, even if they may not. It is hard to know if you are being taken seriously, and receiving honest words or empty promises. A few days earlier,it leaked that Governor Walz’s campaign accepted money from a law firm who represents Enbridge, the company behind Line 3. When confronted about this, Governor Walz evaded answering and promptly left. In this, I saw it’s easy to be dishonest, and hard to tell if someone is truly honest.
It was an afternoon filled with wisdom. I saw wisdom in many youth in the afternoon, when we were fortunate enough to hear from Governor Walz, Lieutenant Governor Flanagan, and a representative panel made up of Representative Patty Acomb and Senator Tim Frentz. Unfortunately, Governor Walz’s speech didn’t resonate with many. Students were wise enough to see that his ideas to us were vague, and some felt they were dishonest based on past actions. They saw the ideas, and the inconsistencies, the hope, and the inaction.
Students were also wise in understanding that things are not always as they seem. One bill in particular that was on our agenda to oppose is the Senate version of the “Clean Energy First” act, which defines trash burning as renewable energy, and calls coal and gas plants “carbon free resources” if they capture only 80% of their carbon emissions and frack it into the ground to extract oil. Senator Frentz expressed his support for this bill if nuclear energy was removed, but students were wise enough to know that this bill would not move our economy towards a green future, but instead continue to promote trash burning, which is more often found in communities of color and low income communities, and does not prioritize clean energy first.
It was a day of humility. I saw humility in students presenting to each other and to their elected officials. I saw the vision in the eyes of the people, that they are part of a movement bigger than any one of us. That each person cannot do something like this alone, but we are all in this fight together. Each person played a role, whether it was navigating their group to the right office, telling a passionate story to their legislator, knowing the statistics and facts to share with their legislators, sharing our message with the media, or teaching others about how to stay involved and why climate justice is racial justice, social justice, and economic justice.
I learned it’s okay to not know everything. No one knows every single fact, every bill that is out there, and every part of the complicated legislative process. However, no matter who you are or what you know, your voice matters. I watched many people from all over Minnesota learn that along with me.
It was a day of love. I saw the love in all of the people that supported our gathering. From the students who helped plan the agenda and workshops to the adults that coordinated our legislative visits, or volunteered and helped the day run smoothly. The amazing bread in the morning, and delicious lunch, served by many volunteers who gave their time to make the day a success illustrated to me the love that people have for the planet and for youth voices. All of the eager faces made me realize how many people have the same love for our future, for the planet, for equality, and for each other, because climate change impacts everyone.
It was a day of courage, courageous young and old alike who stood up for what we believe. Yes, a legislator is a normal person, but speaking to someone who has power to shape your future can be intimidating. Students of all ages had the courage to do just this. Some students had the chance to be courageous enough to speak to the Governor about his inconsistencies and campaign donation from a group supporting line three. Students had the courage to potentially miss something at school to fight for something even more important. They had courage to put themselves out there in a group where they potentially didn’t know anyone.
After the Youth Climate Justice Summit, I feel courage to keep fighting for my future, and I know many others feel the same. I can’t wait to see where our courage takes us next.