Maya Greally is a sophomore at Boston Latin School and was a ACE Action Fellow for the 2014-2015 school year. She’s ecstatic to be able to continue her work with ACE next year as a Senior Action Fellow. She enjoys eating rice, babysitting, and saving the world.
On June 4th, a bright New England day, a ragtag group of youth in matching white ACE t-shirts wandered the annual Jimmy Fund Scooper Bowl, an all-you-can-eat ice cream bonanza held to raise money for the pediatric cancer care institute. They posed with sticky faces and stacks of empty ice cream cups, taking selfies left and right. However, this sweet treat was the end of a demanding leg of the long journey towards climate justice.
This trek began in the musty confines of the Democracy Center, an old Harvard University frat house, now refurbished, repurposed and renamed, where the New England ACE Action Fellows gathered, video-chatted, called, e-mailed, and everything in between to help build momentum and power for the divestment movement in Massachusetts. Divestment is essentially the opposite of investment, it means moving your assets out of something you find morally objectionable and re-investing them in things that align more with your values and goals. We worked throughout the year to pressure our state government to make Massachusetts the first state in the Union to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Divestment is a powerful tool used to catalyze change. It’s been used to stigmatize everything from Apartheid to the tobacco industry. It opens up public debate and costs corrupt institutions their social licenses. This is why it is becoming an influential force in the fight against climate change.
This year I was lucky enough to be one of those ACE Action Fellows participating in the divestment movement. We represented high school voices at Global Divestment Day at the Massachusetts State House where we testified alongside politicians and some of the leading voices in the divestment movement. We were also at Harvard Heat Week where we held a press conference and participated in an act of civil disobedience where we encircled a historic building in Harvard Yard in support of the Harvard University divestment movement. Our work culminated into a one hour meeting with Representative James Murphy, the Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Services on Thursday, June 4th, which coincidentally coincided with the Scooper Bowl. The purpose of the meeting was to first of all get divestment on his radar, and secondly ask for his support on a bill to make Massachusetts the first state in the union to divest from fossil fuels.
The day of the meeting we all met up in front of the State House, a step up from your run of the mill after school hang out spot. We had been practicing, re-writing and memorizing parts for the past weeks. Before that we had spent time asking teachers for petition signatures and even presenting to whole school faculties about why they should divest their pensions. And even before that we spent months learning about divestment, working on our public speaking, and participating in climate actions across the state. All this was leading up to an hour in the office of a man who is integral in deciding the fate of our work.
Once we had all gathered and run through the presentation, we began our walk into State House. We entered the large, impressive office space of Representative Murphy and sat down to wait. It’s nerve wracking knowing you are about to present on an issue that could help make massive change to a group of people who are integral in making this change happen, but we joked our way through intros and greetings and got through it all without any mistakes or mishaps, much to everyone’s relief. We made our case, gave our ask, and then left them with a folder with more information and hopefully a lot to think about. We left feeling accomplished, because we had done something pretty extraordinary, we’d lobbied our state representative, something not everyone can say they’ve done, especially in high school.
We think of lobbyists today as men in suits taking out politicians to fancy dinners and talking politics and endorsements over steaks, candles and red wine. For us, it’s nothing like that, and in fact it’s so much easier than that, and makes much of a larger impact than most people think. Aiding the passage of this state divestment bill was one of the main goals of our action fellowship this year, and lobbying was an enormous part of that effort.
Legislative aides meet with person after person after person, and when a fresh faced, engaged group of youth show up, they’re intrigued. People don’t expect youth to participate in much outside of school, much less be active in helping the passage of a bill, but when you stand up and demand to be heard they are more than happy to listen. Lobbying is an incredible catalyst for youth to engage in a political process that often seems all too far away, especially from high school. All it takes is a phone call or visit to your local politician’s office, and even emailing, and writing letters to voice your opinion is highly valued by elected officials. So if there’s a bill, piece of legislation, or anything else happening in your state that you care deeply about, make a meeting with your local city council member, representative, congressman, senator, or whoever it is because they want to hear what you have to say but it’s up to you to raise your voice!