Thursday night, I received an email from the president of my town’s Global Warming Action Coalition (GWAC). Basically, a few state representatives and senators for Massachusetts would convene at the local library to discuss climate change legislation. As I read the email, I immediately forwarded the message to the rest of my school’s action team. Since the event was Saturday at 9am, I knew it was unrealistic to expect too many of my sleep-deprived high school peers to show up. Nonetheless, I encouraged everyone to attend the meeting – it would be a great way for us to connect with the town’s GWAC!
As I clicked the “send” button, I imagined the potential of all the connections we could make during the meeting and the progress we could achieve!
Honestly, I have to admit that if I wasn’t involved with ACE, I probably wouldn’t have considered going to the meeting. First of all, I would’ve felt out of place. Before I began working with ACE, I assumed youth played an insignificant role in crafting legislation and influencing government. But this narrow-minded perspective changed radically when I viewed the ACE Presentation and began attending Leadership Trainings. Pre-ACE, I also would have had no idea what to say to in situations like this and felt that my presence was meaningless. Again though, participating in ACE Leadership Trainings and receiving mentorship as a ACE Youth Rep really prepared me for situations just like this! By the time the meeting came around, I had the confidence I needed to interact with our State representatives, and I earnestly believed that my presence could make a difference.
Although nobody else from my school showed up to the event, I walked into the meeting room full of excitement. As a high school student, I hadn’t gained much exposure to social and environmental policy, so this was a whole new world to me. When I walked into the room, I spoke with a few people I met at a Climate Café event that was hosted over the summer. One of them remarked, “You’re the only one here without grey hair.” Now, if someone had said this to me two years ago, it would’ve discouraged me. But in light of my work with ACE, I had an epiphany: as a young person at a town event like this, I had power. I had a unique perspective to share. And since I was the only high school student at the event, my voice made a huge difference. I was seen as a representative of all the young people in our town, and because of that, my words carried weight and SIGNIFICANCE. I offered a fresh set of ideas, a new perspective in the discussion, and for that reason my opinion was highly valued.
The meeting began with a brief explanation of our state’s current climate change policies. Next, each Representative shared their thoughts on climate change and how climate activists could spark necessary changes in our government. One piece of advice I found particularly insightful, was the strategy of pressing for bold, almost unrealistically visionary climate policies. Setting the bar extra high for our initial demands, they said, would result in political compromises more in line with the actions necessary to secure a safe climate future.
My message from this experience is that youth must speak up on behalf of the climate, our peers and the future we want to see. Sure, we can’t change the world overnight, but our perspectives, ideas and votes really do matter. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that youth, have a superpower. Because high school students haven’t historically participated much in government, there is now a serious “wow factor” every time we walk into a room and bring our vision to the table. When we show up, adults LISTEN. And we should take full advantage of this fact, especially if we want to spark a change big enough to stop climate change in its tracks. I mean, when you think about it, youth have helped spark the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement, rock & roll, hip hop – and now it’s time for our generation to light this climate movement on FIRE!
So next time you find yourself nervous and intimidated about speaking up in a room full of adults, remember this: You have a superpower! You have a magical power to persuade adults and a boundless ability to inspire them. You’ve got this. Now let’s get to work.
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