It was exciting — and inspiring — to have more than 40 energetic, committed young people in their late teens and twenties fill our UUSM sanctuary and campus on Saturday, April 13th, for a full day of connecting and training to organize for climate justice.
Continuing our work of collaborating with community partners who overlap with our mission, FIA had teamed up with the LA chapter of Sunrise Movement, a newer grassroots organization that is diverse, intersectional, youth and young adult-led, and quickly changing the national conversation about climate change. Together, we provided a welcoming space for activists to learn and get more deeply involved in working for a livable future. A few others from UUSM participated or provided support, including Sarah Robson, Jila Tayefehnowrooz, and Linda Van Ligten.
As a national organization, Sunrise grew out of the student movement to get universities to divest from fossil fuels. I think it represents a new phase of climate justice advocacy — its leaders are ethnically diverse, unwilling to accept the status quo, and they “get” the urgency and reality of the climate crisis in a visceral way that perhaps older generations do not. They are scared for their future and see peaceful direct action and civil disobedience as primary ways to engage. They are driven by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent dire report, which warns that we have less than twelve years to make drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emission in order to avert disaster.
The day’s activities included multimedia presentations on the history of environmental justice movements, the analogies between the original New Deal and what a “Green New Deal” political coalition could look like, and the effects of environmental racism and neglect on frontline communities, those most likely to be impacted by climate change. There were many breakout sessions and opportunities for individual sharing. There was a lively interactive exercise on how to build coalitions and bring more allies to our side. At one point, a young woman in her teens told her story to the assembled group about growing up next to an oil drilling site in South LA and the health effects she is still grappling with. And several others shared emotional stories about coming out as queer and trans, seeing their own journeys as a deeply-connected part of a larger movement to make a better world.
I was struck by the anti-racist, intersectional, locally-conscious approach of the Sunrise Movement because it is precisely the kind of vision lifted up by the contributors to “Justice on Earth,” this year’s UUA common read that some of us have been studying and discussing.
Most of the training’s participants did not have prior experience with Unitarian Universalist congregations, but were excited to hear about UUSM’s distinguished history of supporting social justice movements and intrigued to learn more about us. “I didn’t know places like this existed,” said one.
Photos by James Witker.