Young people across the country to hold day of action on Saturday highlighting lawsuit as youth-driven climate movement grows

Austin

Students in Austin, Texas, want you to veg out. Kids in Westport, Connecticut will screen a film. And in rural North Carolina, activists will draw on a toxic spill to commemorate the environmental justice movement.

All of these rallies will be part of an international campaign on Saturday to spotlight environmental issues. Their message: I Am Juliana.

The slogan refers to the landmark court case in Oregon in which 21 youths are suing the United States government over climate change.

Named for Kelsey Juliana, a 23-year-old activist and college student, the case was filed in 2015 and is headed back to court on Tuesday. The campaign to raise its profile dubbed #IAmJuliana or #AllEyesOnJuliana is the brainchild of Our Childrens Trust, the organization behind the lawsuit, and Future Coalition, the not-for-profit network forged to empower youth after the Parkland shooting.

Whats unique about the campaign is what it signals: the infrastructure behind the youth climate movement is growing, decentralizing, and gaining momentum, all while activists set sights on the 2020 election.

While Saturdays events are designed to raise the profile of the Juliana case, they double as training exercises. Offering speaking and organizing opportunities to young leaders, the aim is to build skills through press conferences, local actions and, yes, vegetarian picnics. Events take place in 100 American communities and in Italy, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Many of the groups tied to the effort are youth-led and recently galvanized over the urgency of climate action: US Youth Climate Strike, Sunrise Movement, Our Climate Voices. Other environmental groups supporting the effort, however, are well known, deeply resourced, and packed with adults who now see the kids as the vehicle for change: Greenpeace, Sierra Club, 350.org.

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The activist Kelsey Juliana on the steps of a federal courthouse in 2017. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Youth are an important catalyst for change because theyre the ones that people are finally starting to listen to, said Emery Kiefer, who coordinates campus programs for the Climate Reality Project. That climate action group was founded by the former vice-president Al Gore and trains volunteers 19,000 of them to speak about climate change. Most of those volunteers are adults, many retirees, Kiefer said.

Lately, however, weve seen a huge shift in our youth becoming more and more involved and understanding the nexus of climate policy and the importance of elections and campaigns. I think, at this moment, the two are so incredibly intertwined.

As Climate Reality plans voter education, registration, and get-out-the-vote drives for 2020, partnerships with those youth action groups are cementing. Climate Reality trained several of the kids now leading newer efforts: US Youth Climate Strikes Haven Coleman, the Juliana plaintiff Levi Draheim, and Zero Hours Jaime Margolin.

As youth stand poised to bum rush an election, grown-up help is most welcome.

Having infrastructure in any social movement is really, really important, said Katie Eder, the Stanford-bound 19-year-old who is executive director for Future Coalition. She notes a lack of training as one of the key factors causing the youth-led anti-gun violence campaign to fizzle.

With a climate crisis looming, and the nation currently lacking a path toward comprehensive climate legislation, she says youth activists are now seizing on the battle-ready tools on offer, especially those affecting education and turnout in the 2020 election.

In the US, 2020 is going to be a very pivotal moment I think that if we see mass voter turnout, especially mass voter turnout with people who are voting especially on the issue of climate change, we have a very hopeful chance, she said.

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