On June 14-16, Our Climate hosted our first National Climate Justice Summit, where fellows from across the US came to Washington DC to participate in three days of advocacy, art and resilience work. Our reach extends throughout the country in the following states: Washington, Oregon, New York, Florida, and Massachusetts. The majority of the work we do is remote, meaning many of our youth leaders have not had the opportunity to connect in person. While organizing remotely allows us to extend our reach beyond state lines and be better equipped to succeed in today’s political environment, we acknowledge the power of in-person human connection. For this reason, we were so excited to have everyone together in Washington DC.
At OC, we believe art has the power to unite people while making an impact! We dedicated our first night to creating a mosaic for our rally in the shape of a megaphone with the number 555 radiating out of it to represent our support for $555 billion in intersectional climate investments. The following morning Emily Wirzba, an Our Climate Advisory Council member, led a policy overview and lobbying trainer for our youth leaders. They educated everyone on the logistics surrounding the $555 Billion Bill and emphasized how critical it is for activists to demand that their elected officials support the passing of these historic climate investments. After the training, we all gathered at the Capitol Reflective Pool for Our Climate’s first Climate Justice Rally! We started the rally with speeches by six of our youth leaders: Nnennaya Ihejirikah from Texas, Melody Destefano from Oregon, Suhaila Cotton from Massachusetts, Mehak Sandhu from Florida, Olivia Zhang from Florida, and Milly Waxman from New York. The youth leaders shared why they are so passionate about climate justice and how climate change has negatively affected their communities. Our guest speakers, California Congressman, Ro Khana, and American University professor, Dr. Elizabeth Rule, were up next. Congressman Khana stressed the dire need to combat climate change and expressed his support for our movement. Dr. Rule began her speech with a land acknowledgment and continued by emphasizing how important it is that the climate justice movement not only acknowledge the existence and disproportionate suffering of indigenous communities but also elevate their voices when creating solutions. Our Executive Director, Jasmine Davenport, followed by sharing how her experience as a survivor of hurricane Katrina led her to become a the scientist and climate justice activist she is today. She closed off the rally by celebrating Our Climate’s achievements and inspiring everyone to stay resilient. Following the rally, our youth leaders split up into their state groups and met with staffers from their state to discuss their support for the $555 Billion climate investments bill. We finished off our policy day by meeting with the Select Committee on Climate Crisis at the Rayburn House Office Building. After all the work was over, everyone had free time to relax, go sight-seeing, and check out museums in the DC area.
One of the ways Our Climate builds resilience is by making mental health a priority. So many of the youth we empower have been exposed to the harsh realities that come with a global climate emergency and the injustices of an economic system that puts profits over people, naturally resulting in many of them experiencing burn-out and climate anxiety. We give our youth leaders access to mental health professionals through our Resilience as Resistance online workshops. On the last day, Our Climate partnered with licensed mental health professionals, Sharai Bradshaw and Drew Joseph, to lead our first in-person Resilience as Resistance: Mental Health and Climate Activism workshop. Thanks to the expertise of Sharai and Drew, we were able to provide a safe space for young climate activists to confidently share their climate anxiety and learn healthy coping mechanisms. We finished the summit celebrating the youth leader’s completion of Our Climate’s fellowship program by hosting a graduation and enjoying our last moments with a farewell lunch.
Being a part of the climate justice movement can feel like we are forever trying to push open a door that has been sealed with cement and this feeling can become overwhelming. But experiencing the drive and commitment Our Climate youth leaders share in person reminds us why we continue to work relentlessly on climate advocacy… we do it for the youth!