Sep 26, 2019

A Few Thoughts on Practical Activism

This speech by Kira McPherson was delivered during the #ClimateStrike protest on September 20th, 2019 in Lawrence, Kansas.
By Kira McPherson /
A Few Thoughts on Practical Activism

If you are one of the many adults in Lawrence who have dedicated your lives to activism, I want to thank you for your selfless, tireless, and far-reaching good works. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have been, and continue to be, warm, glowing examples of public service and a credit to this wonderful town. Our new youth leaders desperately need your experienced insights and your seasoned activist skills. We are so grateful for you. 

If you are one of the youth present today, I want to thank you for being here. Young people have to live with the terrors of climate change long after their adults pass away. This is your horrific burden, and therefore, it is right and necessary that you, the youth, lead. You are on the front lines of the climate battle, the war to save our planet. We adults have to help equip you, give you good maps, good intel, to keep you safe and healthy. We have to protect our young warriors. Ask yourself as an adult how you can best support this Children's Crusade. Keep the kids, these remarkable new leaders, topmost in your mind with every activist effort you undertake. 

But I need to remind everyone, of all ages, that the strike, that today, isn't as important as you think it is. Tomorrow is important. The next day is important. The day after that is important. You have to start meeting and planning, you have to keep talking about the climate catastrophe, you have to keep going, and going, and going. You don't have a choice. We have no choice. You have to keep going. 

I'm so sorry about that. I'm so sorry we adults have failed you so badly in our legacies to you. You're going to have to be stronger and smarter and braver than your parents and teachers in the climate fight. 

Some of it will be frightening at times, but it's also going to be tiring and some of it, I’m sorry to say, will be flat-out boring. People who profit from predatory delay of climate change adaptation are counting on you to not show up to their meetings, not to stay informed and responsive to their corporate decisions. They are, for real, counting on you to get overwhelmed and exhausted by the often irritating and tedious machinery of school and city policy making. Remember that this is a movement, not a moment, and remember the other activist truth: decisions are made by those who show up. Today is important, but tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, is more important. 

A few thoughts on practical activism: 

One of my least favorite things in the world is being set up to fail, and then being punished for failing. Please, PLEASE remember that this isn't the purity olympics. Focus on the perpetrators; the petro-chemical corporations, the lobbyist-beholden politicians, the top-heavy, worker-unfriendly companies who greenwash their PR images while making deals with climate-destroying sources. These are the climate criminals, and we are going to make climate criminals accountable. We are going to make our local, state, and federal leaders accountable. We are NOT going to shame average citizens trying their best in a corrupt culture. Say this as often as you need to: this isn't the purity olympics. Build compassionate, supportive caretaking inside your activist circles and remember to aim your ire where it’s deserved. Politicians and Corporations are practiced liars who don't join movements until they stand to lose from them, so keep building momentum and membership till we’re too big for Lawrence and Kansas to ignore, even here in Koch-country. 

One of the strengths of the Green New Deal is its commitment to social justice but even now, a brilliant, revolutionary organization like Sunrise Movement is still not as advanced as it needs to be in its goal of genuine, authentic diversity and representation of disenfranchised people. I want you to join Sunrise, but more than that, I want you to fight for diverse inclusion and representation as much as you fight for climate change adaptation. 

We have a unique opportunity in Lawrence to genuinely elevate and protect the voices and insights of our Native American brothers and sisters, some of whom are studying at Haskell University, some of whom are lifelong Lawrencians. We have opportunities to elevate and elect Indigenous people to city and state offices, to local supervisory boards. We have to actively fight against Native tokenism in environmental activism and authentically advance the needs and interests of Indigenous People. Lawrence has black, Latinix, and other people of color, but few of them are here today, fewer are represented in city politics. If you join a local climate movement, and you don't see traditionally disenfranchised people leading and speaking safely and comfortably, if you don'tsee POC inputting and organizing, if you don't see women's voices being elevated by men... you need to get proactive and change that situation. Don't assume others are being saved, that they don't need you, personally, to advocate and make a place for them. Insist on diverse representation in your leaders and fellow activists. Filter your actions and activism through the clarifying lense of social justice. 

Work on your humility and flexibility, examine your organizations and actions frequently, and remember that the Green New Deal is about social justice. Re-calibrate your focus as often as you need to. We need to hear from people who have historically been left standing outside, who have been systematically silenced or accidentally left out by even well-meaning activists. If we can't work to right old wrongs, now, when the literal existence of humanity is threatened, then when the hell are we going to?? 

Everyone gets a seat at the table. It's your job to get them there. 

I'll end by reminding you to focus on the science: Find climate scholars that you trust to summarize scientific papers, or read the papers yourselves. You should especially read Arctic scientists studying melting ice and permafrost. Go to the source of information, don't trust media outlets to get it right. Focus on the science: a feeling isn't a fact, a fact is a fact. Don't waste time or energy arguing over science and social justice. There's no time. 

Tell your leaders you expect scientific literacy from them. Remind them that anyone can declare a crisis; it's easy to make sweeping statements, not as easy to work on specifics. We know where we are now, we know where we want to go; it's much harder to work on route details. Real leaders do real work; real planning, budgeting, prepping, and retrofitting. Talking is easy, work is hard. Real leaders think, then real leaders get to work. 

Remember that anger isn't a policy. It's important to rage, but make sure you rage against the machine. 

Focus on local politics, on local problems and solutions; you'll make the biggest difference there. Tell your parents and teachers and bosses and local business-leaders exactly what you expect from them and remember, the most important environmental action you can take is to educate yourself scientifically and to keep talking about the climate crisis. 

Start attending your municipal or school sustainability board meetings, your weekly or monthly city or school council meetings. Climate change affects literally everything, so there’s no shortage of opportunites to discuss the Green New Deal, to model compassionate and socially just activism everywhere your day takes you. 

Our youth deserve city officials with visionary grit, city elders who lead from the front. Sunrise Lawrence is hosting a debate at the Lied Center on October 2 with the city council candidates; you should come and bear witness to their campaign promises. Come speak truth to power, and hold power to their promises. 

Show up. Work hard. Be brave. Make our founders proud. 

Lawrence was established by heroic anti-slavery activists who weren't afraid of the revolutionary work to guide our town through dangerous history. The challenge before our foremothers and forefathers must have seemed impossible at times. We know from their diaries that their task was often frightening, often overwhelming. They knew it was going to be a fight, they knew profound legacies were built by real people doing real work, they knew work was the best cure for fear and anxiety. Don’t be afraid of the challenge in front of us; hard is just hard, hard is not impossible. We are the benefactors of people who did hard things. We can do hard things. We’re not afraid of work. We know the power of solidarity. We are on the right side of history. 

Show up. Work hard. Be brave. Make your founders proud. 

It’s going to be hard. It's going to be scary, but I believe in the Sunrise movement, I believe in our youth, more than I've believed in anything, in my entire life. I believe in you. I’m here, we’re all here, for you: the Green Generation. 

Remember what Greta says: “I’ll see you in the streets.”

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