Youth re-defining environmentalism (way better than we are)

posted by Rainforest Action Network

It’s not a secret. Environmentalism has a bad name with a lot of people – and for lots of good reasons (check the article “Soul of Environmentalism” if you are not on the same page with me on this). The mainstream, majority white environmental movement has a checkered history of ignoring (or working against) the interests of people of color and working class folks. So time and time again when I give presentations to young people in public schools about the work we do, they want to make sure I’m not a “regular environmentalist”- because, as they tell me, environmentalists are racist.

That’s right all you environmentalists out there- youth from urban settings, who have a lot more on their plate than whether or not to recycle, consider environmentalists irrelevant and sometimes racist, or at least clueless about social justice.

RAN has been working to challenge white superiority in the mainstream environmental movement and work in the intersections between environmentalism, environmental justice, climate justice, social justice and human rights… But the youth I met this weekend blow us out of the water with their intersections.

I attended Youth Quest an amazing environmental conference put on by the high school students of TEAM – the youth leadership program of the Headlands Institute. They brought together hundreds of teens from all over the Bay Area. All of the workshops were led by youth. I came as a chaperone to 3 amazing young RAN/ RYSE activists – whose picture I would put up here, but it’s all grainy.

The majority of teens there were involved in organizing for the environment and other issues like immigrant rights, education budget cuts or sexual exploitation of minors.

The theme they chose was “if the Earth wasn’t green, what color would it be?”
They had four different answers in the program. My favorite read:

“If the Earth wasn’t green, what color would it be? might reference the emerging intersections of the environmental, social justice and indigenous rights movements. Perhaps we should be thinking about people of all colors, ages, and backgrounds, and how a wide diversity of people is taking action to bring about social change and protect the environment”

One of the leading groups in attendance was IYEL (Inspiring Young Emerging Leaders). They created a documentary about how the national parks exclude people of color (you can see it on their home page) and developed t-shirts that say “I’m an environmentalist” on the front and “and I heart hip-hop” or “and I don’t hug trees” etc. on the back- in a direct and marvelous attempt to redefine environmentalism for their generation.

So basically, this blog post is a challenge to the adult environmentalists to get our act together and merge our social justice and environmental selves already.