Youth Climate Strike and Quakers

Tomorrow students around the world will strike to demand actions to support a Green New Deal to address our environmental crises. Tens of thousands of youth have participated in #FridaysForFuture demonstrations in Europe and Australia over the past several months.

#FridaysForFuture is a movement that began in August 2018, after 15 years old Greta Thunberg sat in front of the Swedish parliament every schoolday for three weeks, to protest against the lack of action on the climate crisis. She posted what she was doing on Instagram and Twitter and it soon went viral.

Sky News 2/15/2019

Iowa Climate Strike will occur at the Iowa State Capitol tomorrow (3/15/2019) from 2-4 pm. This event is hosted by Iowa Climate Strike.

In the U.S. youth are demanding a Green New Deal. The Sunrise Movement says “together, we will change this country and this world, sure as the sun rises each morning.”

On 3/12/2019 The New York Times Editorial Board said “Grown-Ups Get a Scolding on Climate. Inspired by a Swedish teenager, students around the world on Friday will protest political inaction.”

“We have not come here to beg world leaders to care,” Greta told COP24. “You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again. We have run out of excuses and we are running out of time. We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not.” Out of the mouth of babes …

New York Times Editorial Board

I was interested to hear what Scattergood Friends School and Farm might be doing tomorrow. A strike wouldn’t make much sense there, being out in the countryside. And I am sure Scattergood students and their teachers are well aware of our environmental crises. Spending time on the Farm, I imagine they have a deeper understanding of climate change issues than most High School Students.

I was told classes at the School tomorrow will focus on the environmental crises. I saw this as an opportunity to talk with the students about the Green New Deal and the Sunrise Movement that I have been working with. With some work on scheduling, I will have that chance tomorrow afternoon.

I’ve been wondering how to frame this discussion. I think it is important that adult Friends (Quakers) recognize how significant the generational gap is related to climate change.

Sunrise’s decision to be youth-led and youth-centered is both a strategic and cultural one. In the climate crisis, young people face an unfortunate reality: every one of us will see the devastating effects of climate change in our lifetime. We have inherited a crisis that we did not create— and there is a story to tell about a new generation of Americans who are standing up to protect their future. Throughout history, we have seen that youth voices hold a unique moral clarity, and the climate crisis is no 
exception. Choosing to focus on young people is a key part of our strategy to reach millions.  
Sunrise is also filling a cultural gap for young people in the movement. Young people today have grown up knowing that the stable climate that human civilization has depended on for millennia could crumble within our lifetimes. Yet, we’ve seen political leaders continue to fail us, often laughing us off  or calling us young and naive. That’s been deeply discouraging for many of us. In our society, there aren’t many spaces that trust and uplift the leadership of young people. Young people were searching for a space that would not only allow them to organize but would also give them the community they were searching for. Our youth-centered focus makes sure that we are building a community and an 
identity— vital ingredients to keep a movement together. 

#YoungAtHeart Guidelines

After years of work helping lead various environmental efforts, it is a change to realize my place now is to be supportive of the youth led movements. In many ways, a welcome change.

Which leads to the question of what right do I have to speak to the Scattergood students tomorrow, when I know they are the leaders now? And especially when I know Quakers have let them down?

I know many Friends have done a lot of work on their environmental practices, and I am very grateful for that. But I think most Friends believe we should have found ways to do more. Try as we might to reduce our carbon footprint, we have lived in a society that has continued to rely on fossil fuel energy. That we have allowed to continue to mine and burn fossil fuels.

Quakers believe our lives should demonstrate our beliefs, and the leadings of the Spirit within us. We often feel what we are led to do doesn’t make much of a difference. But we also know what we think should happen might not be what God intended. We sometimes learn years later that someone did do something based on our actions in the past. Being faithful to the Spirit is what is important.

One of my own experiences related to this was how I came to give up owning an automobile in the early 1970s. When I moved to Indianapolis I was shocked by the clouds of noxious fumes. This was before catalytic converters were available. I remember the moment when I envisioned my beloved Rocky Mountains shrouded in smog, which shook me as few things have since. I felt a strong spiritual force telling me I had to give up having a car, and I haven’t had one since. This has led to years of frustration because as far as I know not a single other person gave up their car. Discouraged as I often was, I knew I couldn’t own a car myself.

This resulted in a number of inconveniences, but some sacrifice is an important part of being true to a spiritual vision. If you aren’t made uncomfortable, there is more you need to be doing.

So one thing I hope to share with the Scattergood students are some of the ways this spiritual vision led to many new experiences in my life.

I also hope to share especially my recent experiences with Native Americans. As I was often discouraged by the lack of concern and work related to our evolving environmental crises, I looked for others whose lives were spiritually grounded, and lived with environmental integrity, whose lives spoke. I kept thinking about Indigenous people and their culture. I knew I couldn’t depended on written accounts, both because I didn’t know how to separate fact from fiction. And I knew Native Americans relied on oral history.

I was glad when Native Americans in Indianapolis joined us as we worked to protect the water, to work to try to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. But we were only together for a short time during these public actions, so I didn’t get to know anyone then.

When I heard about the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, the Inner Light burst into flames, and I had no doubt that was something I must participate in. The March was a group of about fifty Native and non-Native people who walked along the path of the Dakota Access Pipeline for 94 miles over eight days (from Des Moines to Fort Dodge, Iowa). Although I was uncertain whether I could walk that distance, I had no doubt I was led to go as far as I could. I was grateful I did complete the March, because that let me learn more and more about my Native friends. And I was really impressed by what I observed and learned. And after the March, my friends continued to educate me by telling me of books and videos that were accurate depictions of Indigenous beliefs.

I have come to believe we need Indigenous people to lead us toward solutions for our evolving environmental disasters. This is what I hope to discuss with the Scattergood students. We need to spread the word about this with those who don’t know.

I think it is also important to raise the issues of the genocide and land theft Native Americans have been, and continue to be subjected to. We need to work to stop the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women.

The Green New Deal is as much about transforming our society into one that values people over profits, and stops the destruction of Mother Earth, as it is about a just transition from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy.

What I hope to convey to Scattergood students is my support for their environmental efforts, and share why I think it is essential that we lift up the leadership of Indigenous people. I see this as a responsibility for me in particular, because as clerk of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)’s Peace and Social Concerns Committee, I believe we must look to our youth for leadership.

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2 Responses to Youth Climate Strike and Quakers

  1. Miriam Kashia says:

    Jeff, I agree with your commitment to the youth – those who we have failed and brought to this place of existential crisis. Many of us “oldsters” are doing a lot, but it is too little and too late. And I thank you for your recognition of Indigenous peoples and their ancient honoring and connection with the Earth. We can learn much from them if we will only listen. I appreciate your dedication and your work.

    • jakisling says:

      Thank you Miriam. I was really glad we got to know each other some during the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March. And I’m still thankful you took care of my blistered foot. I am also glad you came to the Climate Conference at Scattergood in 2013, and walked on that March into Iowa City with us.

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