Young People, Activism, and Climate Change

I think working with young people on climate change is some of the most important work we can do. We mostly need to tell them that they have the power to change things. Almost every revolution has been led by young people.

I’ve been running a nonprofit organization for twenty-five years. Our theory of change is based on an action-and-support model. We have supported thousands of young people in their work, nationally and internationally.

Young people need support when they hear hard information or when they are going through hard times. They need us to back them [support them]. At the same time, we need to get out of their way so they can be free to take every action they can think of.

We are in a particularly interesting time in human history. We are looking at the possibility of the extinction of the human race. We have twelve years to turn this around. The young people we see every day are the people who will live through this time. They’re already living through its challenges—here, and in many parts of the world.

My thinking about how to communicate to young people about climate change keeps changing. I’ve been communicating pretty [quite] straight out [directly] and honestly, but with lots of laughing and fun and a good tone.

I always have people talk to each other in pairs and look at the grief and the numbness. We have a lot of discussions. I ask them what they think. As much as possible I get all of their minds out there with me.

It helps a lot to teach RC or basic RC theory to any young people’s group that we work with. I’ve been teaching young people’s RC classes in my program for twenty years. Many of the young people do only RC while in the program. A Co-Counseling Area I built just split into three Areas that include a lot of these young people. It’s possible to do this.

As adults we have a lot of discharging to do on our feelings of urgency and discouragement to get our tone right. But we don’t have time to get it perfect—and we don’t need to. We need to try everything we can think of, apologize for mistakes, and keep going. We also need to bring the young people in close with us—young people are our leaders around closeness, and they need us to match them and stay in close.

In a recent young people’s class, I gave my best description of climate change yet. I said, “You look at adults and you realize that they’re making a big mess for no reason, and if they could just figure out how to get along with each other, the mess would go away. That’s like what’s happening with climate change—adults are making a big mess for no reason. And it’s a very big mess. And we have to do something about it.”

Then I say, “When you try to do something about it, the adults are going to tell you that you don’t understand, that you don’t have your facts right, that that’s not how things are done.” Then I say that they can tell the adults, “Well, it’s not working, and we’re in really, really big trouble. I want all the animals and all the people that I know to keep living. What you’re doing and the systems that you have in place are not working—so you need to start listening to young people. You need to start thinking creatively and big and fresh. You need to redo the whole system so that everybody has enough, and nobody has too much.”

Greta Thunberg [a young Swedish activist] said, “The rules are not working, so it’s time to change the rules.” I share that with the young people, and I see the power come across their faces.

I do give them facts and talk about the real situation. Almost no one else is. Nobody’s being honest with anybody. Nobody’s telling the truth. Talking about the real situation is part of our job as adults. It’s scary to do it, and we need to figure out how to feel the fear, but we can’t keep hiding things from anybody—especially from young people who are going to be alive for many more years.

I’m in the most contact with people between the ages of thirteen and eighteen. They are mostly young people of color, from poor neighborhoods, and they have already seen a lot in their lives. They understand that things need to change, and they can understand activism.

This is going to take all of us. People often organize when things are desperate—and they’re desperate now. Young people understand that and can act when given accurate information.

When my son was ten, he and I started learning about the effects of climate change. My father, who saw a lot of campus activism in the 1960s and 1970s, commented, “Young people today are going to be living in an exciting time.” This is an exciting time. Young people have access to activism and international movements—the Sunrise movement, the Extinction Rebellion, the youth climate strikes, and more—in a way they didn’t before. It’s useful to show them videos of young people from these movements doing powerful things. That’s some of the best information they can get.

BrianLavendel(Madison,Wisconsin,USA, <>) is collecting names of people who are supporting young people in climate change work so we can be in touch with each other.

Jenny Sazama

International Liberation Reference
Person for Allies to Young People

Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, USA

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders
of wide world change

Last modified: 2019-07-16 20:33:51+00