We have received some letters to the editor or commentaries in recent weeks that suggest the climate strike was a stunt to make pawns of our children.
The argument has been made that the youth of today are actually unable to understand the science they profess, and their lack of maturity does not make them reasonable activists.
Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who has become the poster child for the youth climate action movement, silenced some of her critics, but generated others with her ardent finger-pointing at world leaders for not doing enough to avoid what she believes to be the start of a mass extinction.
The youth have become fluent in the language of climate, and that education should not be discredited. They are, in fact, the ones who inherit the problems ahead.
Their demand that we have a responsibility to do better is not lost.
To that end, we want to introduce you to a few other youth activists who have been making a difference on the world stage in recent weeks. Many of them are people of color, and all of them are students.
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, a Colorado-based 17-year-old youth director of Earth Guardians, is of indigenous descent and has sued the government, including a recent lawsuit in Colorado arguing that the state should require oil and gas regulators to consider public health and the environment, and is one of many young people involved in an ongoing lawsuit against the government for failing to protect people from the effects of climate change. In addition, Xiuhtezcatl is a hip-hop artist and has toured the nation and other countries around the world to perform his music.
Felíquan Charlemagne, 17, attends West Port High School in Ocala, Florida. “I was born on a small island in the Caribbean called St. Thomas. Throughout my entire life, my island and its economy have been further destabilized by climate change and disasters caused by it. This is what we mean when we say climate change isn’t just a singular issue but an existential threat that is at the intersection of nearly every issue. … Every big structural change in history has come because of a grassroots insurgence.”
Tokata Iron Eyes, 16, of Red Cloud Indian School, in Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota: “In a very real way, climate change is a huge threat to my livelihood and the way that I live my life as an indigenous person. Every aspect of who I am is tied in with nature. It’s my entire way of life. It’s my entire culture. Climate change and indigenous issues are so intertwined … We often see that when indigenous communities are attacked, the environment is attacked, and vice versa. There cannot be a solution to the climate crisis that doesn’t even include indigenous people.”
Asli Mwaafrika, 17, of Kheprw Institute, in Indianapolis, Indiana: “It is incredibly impactful for young people to raise awareness among other young people on the power they have to affect change. Especially as a Black youth, our voices are underrepresented in the broader climate conversation even though we are often the most impacted. We have seen many mass shootings, witnessed climate catastrophes both natural and man-made, seen viral videos of police brutality that have popped up on our newsfeeds, including one at our school. Young people are fed up and demanding change and calling for justice, including myself.”
Nyeisha Mallett, 18, of Brooklyn, New York: “Climate change affects our health, our bodies, and our way of living. What is so amazing is that after Hurricane Sandy hit, the people in our community came to us at UPROSE and urged them to help prepare them for the next storm. They want to learn how to adapt to the changing climate and take matters into their own hands to lead the recovery and preparation efforts in our community. I have a duty to protect the earth and use my voice to help represent people of color and our frontline communities who are fighting day and night to just survive climate change. For this movement to be successful, it has to be intergenerational and aligned with frontline-led movements. There has to be a culture of practice that is committed to building just relationships.”
Aqelah Miyzaan, 17, of Detroit, Michigan: “I am joining the climate strike — and the fight for climate and environmental justice — for a better future for my siblings and the generations to come. I am looking forward to working with my brothers and sisters on the front line fight against climate change to learn about how our community can stand up to polluters and make sure that we aren’t forced to live like this. … I would love to see everyone finally own up to the fact that mistakes were made. That’s the first step to fixing the problem. Only when we own up to these mistakes can we start to make progress toward a greener solution.”
These do not sound like unreasoned, well-scripted voices. To the contrary, these voices sound like they should be listened to.