Last week I was a delegate to the inaugural One Young World Environmental Summit. Due to prior fundraising obligations (@SoCo fam), I was only able to attend Day 1 and Day 2––but boy, were they interesting.
Day One was for check in and opening ceremonies, at Biosphere 2. We got to look around for an hour, had dinner (best ice cream ever), and listened to the adults tell us about OYW and how awesome youth were. (Church.)
Day Two was held at ENR2 on the University of Arizona campus. My homeland! Funnily, we just held our AZMUN conference there, so there was some deja vu. It was good to be back at what use to be “home,” too.
Okay, so, we knew that Day Two was going feature speakers, while Day Three would have more problem solving. But I don’t think any of us were prepared for the sheer number of speakers. We started about 8:30am that morning. There were two or three 10 minute breaks, 40 minutes for lunch, but other those breaks, we didn’t leave that one lecture hall until 7pm that evening.
I’ve gotta say, I was impressed with the fortitude of my fellow younglings. For a group of 16-30 year olds, we took a solid stream of adults sharing with us their life’s work without discussion or Q&A pretty darn well. Each speaker was given courtesy and an ear, and was clapped onto and off the stage.
The speakers were pretty amazing, luckily. See the full list here. Jennifer Gray, CNN meteorologist, kicked things off, and was followed by the likes of Alejandro Toledo, the first indigenous president in Central America; Robert Swan, who was the first man to walk to both poles; Ken Kragen, of Hands Across America, who brought in a marching band; Adrian Grenier, actor and cutie; Minister Jan Pronk, President of the Kyoto Protocol; Christine Harada, Federal Chief Sustainability Officer; Ron Garan, NASA Astronaut… the list goes on and on. (Really.) Also, please be aware it doesn’t escape my attention that there were 6 more men speaking than women, and that the vast majority were white.
Here’s the video of Robert Swan’s talk about walking to the North and South poles. It. Was. Hilarious.
My favorite talks were given by Dr. Leyla Acaroglu (watch her TED talk here), whose energy and graphics brought us to life, and my hero, Erin Schrode, who is running for Congress in CA at age 25 as a feminist and environmental activist. She’s the real bae.
I learned a lot, filled pages and pages of my notebook with key points and ideas (some more off topic than on. Anybody at Minerva interested in starting a Waffles of Imagination club where we eat waffles and come up with solutions to world problems? I have the rough draft for a poster!). A major, reoccurring theme was that of the importance of storytelling to amplify your idea for change or increase awareness of a problem. The better said, the more compelling and attractive. I will be implementing this lesson into all further projects of mine. (Like this blog. I try to have interesting photos, humanizing jokes, etc. so that the reader will engage and hear my message.)
It was all extremely inspiring. Here were tens of people who easily fit my idea of a hero, sharing with me everything that made them passionate, encouraging us each to grow, take a stand, make a change. But unfortunately, the other main theme was the word “you.” Many of these speakers loved the concept of a generation of youth who would step up and take charge, who would fill undefined shoes, come up with solutions adults have no ideas for, and would save the world with their youth-ness.
I assume this is to be done while filling a resume, participating in after school sports and clubs, babysitting, doing the dishes, attending the most challenging university you can get into (and pay for), and not complaining. Not giving up. Most importantly, and this is a conclusion I’m drawing from the repeated statements made about how “youth” will be the change makers and saviors, you cannot grow old or you will just be one of the adults, who everybody knows can’t make change anymore.
Idk, maybe this pressure has been felt by all the previous generations too. To be perfect. To solve everything. I’m just a kid, what do I know? :P
Sometimes it’s nice to be told you have the power to fix everything. But as anybody who knows a teen probably has already figured out, lecturing really isn’t the best way to go about empowering–or engaging–youth. (So much so that Minerva likes to brag about how they’ve banned lectures!)
What irked me personally was how that few solutions were offered. For example, we were told to keep companies responsible. Great! I’m down! Let’s do it! …How? What next?
It’s not that I lack direction, focus, passion, desire to make change. It’s just that I’m 19. I’ve lived in the U.S. for only 18 years. For 15 of those I probably didn’t make much sense. I know things––you know that, I know that. But I’d love to hear what you’ve learned after working for 30 years as an activist. What tricks do we use? How do we make them listen? What can we say that will be the most impactful?
Unfortunately, I hear that Day Three of the conference, the day of action and talking and discussion and problem solving, wasn’t all that interactive either. I was hoping there would be workshops on learning hard skills like how and when to sue companies for breaking agreements. How to fundraise for organizations abroad, or travel there yourself. How to be a good storyteller.
Anyways, all this reminded me of the Vlogbrothers’ wonderful video and article on the term “millennial” and how adults treat young people in general. Watch and read below:
In this case, One Young World wasn’t badmouthing us, or disempowering us. But they were still patronizing. They weren’t listening. They were willing to tell us we were now responsible for the world, but they wouldn’t teach us the skills we needed to do this, or meet us and shake our hand.
I loved many of the speakers. But I wish we had time to discuss, to ask questions, to stretch our legs. I wish we had been taught hard skills, been given the answers humanity has already figured out. I wish they had listened to us. I wish my voice had been heard.
Find out more about One Young World and their upcoming summit in Canada (which you should totally still go to if you have the means, and not only because it’s in Canada): https://www.oneyoungworld.com/