By Sarah Davidson
We’re trying something new! Once a month, we’ll be sharing three things that are catching our attention on water-related topics throughout Southeast Alaska and beyond, highlighting policies (What are we following?), actions (What are we doing?), and people or groups that inspire us (What are we learning?). We hope you enjoy our new series, Water Currents. We’d appreciate hearing your feedback and ideas for topics you’d like us to cover.
What are we following?
Youth-led Movements for Climate Action: On March 15th, youth across the globe left school to take to the streets in demand of action on climate change. They were inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who had been sitting on the steps of Swedish parliament alone every Friday since September to protest inaction on climate change. Teens in other countries began to join her in the Friday school strikes, from Columbia, to Australia, to Poland, and the United States.
Alexandria Villaseñor, a 13-year-old in New York, joined the movement in December by sitting on a bench across from the entrance to the United Nations each Friday, after hearing about Greta’s weekly strikes in Sweden. Soon after, 12-year-old Haven Coleman in Denver, Colorado, and 16-year-old Irsa Hirsi in Minneapolis, Minnesota joined Alexandria, forming a US organizing team.
They helped to plan the US locations for the March 15th global school strike that saw youth from more than 123 countries join Greta to let adults and governments know that they refuse to accept any more excuses and to demand immediate action on the climate crisis. Third graders in Gustavus also joined the strike. And just last week, students from Juneau-Douglass High School: Yadaa.at Kalé joined the movement as well, taking to the steps of the state capital on Friday. This growing movement has become known as #FridaysForFuture. Learn more here.
What are we doing?
Supporting Alaska Youth for Environmental Action at their Annual Civics and Conservation Summit: In early March, youth delegates hailing from communities across the state spent a week in Juneau for the Alaska Youth for Environmental Action (AYEA) Annual Civics and Conservation Summit. Teens learned how to communicate with media and elected officials, how to read a bill, how to impact environmental decisions, and expanded their understanding of Tribal resolution processes, environmental justice, and sources of power and influence. Each year, participating youth lead visits to the legislature to advocate for their topic of choice. This year’s topic was continuing to fund education in the face of the state budget cuts. Delegates attended a hearing of the House Finance Sub-Committee on Education and Early Development to ask a simple question: Are We Worth It?
SEACC provided support to AYEA during the annual summit and members of the SEACC team met with summit participants to talk about the work SEACC does on water quality, mining, and forest conservation, and answered questions about water advocacy and science career paths.
AYEA is a program of The Alaska Center that trains youth in leadership skills, community action projects, and campaigns to advance change on environmental issues. Employing a youth-led model, teens choose the issue areas of focus and lead all campaigns and projects. Adult mentors provide support to teens in order to build the skills needed for achieving their project goals.
AYEA participants come from a diverse array of geographic, cultural, economic, and social backgrounds. If you are a teen and would like to sign-up for AYEA next year or if you know someone who would, contact Margi Dashevsky at [email protected] or visit this site for more information.
What are we learning?
Autumn Peltier is Giving Voice to Communities and Waterways Across Canada: Water activist Autumn Peltier is a teen from the Wikwemikong First Nation’s Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island, Canada. She has been advocating for safe drinking water for Indigenous communities and clean waterways throughout Canada for many years. In 2015, she attended the Children’s Climate Conference in Sweden and in 2017 she was the first Canadian nominated for the Children’s International Peace Prize. In 2016, Autumn spoke to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the pipeline and he promised to protect water in Canada. In her address to the UN General Assembly on World Water Day in 2018, she advocated for the rights of water, stating “our water deserves to be treated as human with human rights. We need to acknowledge our waters with personhood so we can protect our waters.” She continues to represent her community and speak up for clean water and healthy communities as a proud “water keeper”.
Youth in Action
This past month, youth around the world have demonstrated how to lead with courage . . . again.
From Gustavus, to our state capital in Juneau, to the halls of power across the world, young people have stepped up and dared to do what most decision-makers haven’t been bold enough to do themselves – take education, climate change, clean water, and the future seriously and put themselves on the line to protect them.
Last year, we witnessed the grace and bravery of students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida who, after personally experiencing trauma and losing friends and teachers in a school shooting, found it within themselves to take on the powerful gun industry in this country.
We have much to learn from the youth of this world. Unapologetically and with more strength than most of us can muster, they are teaching us how to stand up for something they believe in with unwavering courage, persistence, and conviction . . . and build a social movement in the process.
We stand in solidarity with youth in action who are fighting to protect our shared waterways and our collective future.