It’s 12:10 on a Sunday afternoon. I’m walking between two buildings at the University of Minnesota, carrying my carefully scribed flip-chart pages for the Next Generation Environmental Congress. We couldn’t get into the building where the event was being held until noon, right when registration started, and while I had promised to help with registration, I was running a little late. I was amazed to see, as I walked up the stairs, a line of people stretching back from the registration table. I quickly set up to help Abbie and Natalie check people into the event, and we were consistently welcoming new people until after the welcome speech started at 1pm.
This is the state of youth environmental activism in Minnesota, as I see it — fired up, ready to collaborate, and eager for opportunities. The Next Gen Environmental Congress was proposed by the state government in order to engage the youth voice in advance of the big Environmental Congress on March 15th. Organized by the MN Youth Environmental Network and the Young Environmental Advocates of MN, this conference brought together high schoolers, college students, and non-student youth from all corners of the state. I had the privilege of helping to plan the agenda for the day in order to create a positive experience while getting effective feedback to present at the Environmental Congress.Some highlights from the day:
- Being told by the commissioner of the Environmental Quality Board that the conversations had given him “a lot to think about”
- Hearing young people share about projects from high-school campus weatherization to Native American gardens at the University of Morris to divestment campaigns, and seeing them make connections among all those projects
- Using artistic as well as verbal skills to relate the urgency of the need for action to the environmental quality board through our photo petition
- Running out of postcards for attendees to take home and get signed in support of the renewable energy standard
Overall, getting to meet young people from around the state (and inviting them to apply for Summer of Solutions by March 3rd) was a treat. I got to connect with University of Minnesota Twin Cities students who are researching the transition town movement, with the new Beyond Coal organizer for the Sierra Student Coalition, and many more inspired, passionate young people. Events like this remind me of our reason to hope for the future — there are more people working on these issues like we are, and together we can build the world we want to see.