By Brigid Mark and Sam Killmeyer

We’ve all been inundated with reminders to vote, and the next weeks and months hold a huge possibility for change. Election day is next week. But no matter who takes office, it’s important to remember that the fight isn’t over. While voting is an important part of enacting change, it’s just one of many tactics and only one part of the process of achieving climate justice. 

Our movement exists outside of the ballot box, and it’s not about a single leader. The climate movement is up to you and every other individual committed to creating a more just and equitable future.  

After all, it’s no secret that neither presidential candidate is willing to take the radical actions necessary to address the climate crisis: neither proposes a ban on fracking, for example. Biden has been adamant about this, especially when speaking in swing states like Pennsylvania. Supporting fracking is just one of the many ways that the presidential candidates demonstrate that they are far away from taking the big, bold action we need to fight climate change. And it’s a reminder that we can’t stop our efforts after the election.

Plus, while our presidential candidates may not support the Green New Deal, the majority of US citizens do. Fifty-nine percent of respondents support the Green New Deal, according to a poll from Data for Progress: 

Momentum and public opinion are on the side of radical climate policy, but we’re up against the deep pockets of the fossil fuel industry, which will continue to use its power to block any policies or regulations that could harm its bottom line. While it definitely feels good when a candidate you support wins an election, change only happens when we hold our elected officials accountable to their constituents, rather than the fossil fuel industry. 

Grassroots Change

Real, substantial change doesn’t come from the top-down; it comes through grassroots movements and coalition building. Movements change perspectives, create solutions, and amplify issues that would otherwise get lost. They also apply pressure to our elected officials. 

Meaningful legislation comes with a fight. While President Johnson ultimately signed the Civil Rights Act, he voted against every civil rights bill that came before him from 1937-56. He was put on the ballot for the southern segregationist vote. Civil rights legislation only came after sustained protests — we should remember that the Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted 381 days. And while significant gains were made during the Civil Rights Movement, the fight for racial justice continues in the streets 50 years later. 

Politicians from both major parties hate demonstrations — which is why people on both sides of the aisle have called racial justice uprisings “riots” and made sure to distance themselves, saying that they support “peaceful protests.” Racial justice uprisings continue across the country, and they may be the largest movement in American history.

Activists are gaining momentum and building more and more diverse coalitions — fighting against climate change must include racial and environmental justice. As we continue through the coming months and whatever the election brings, we must put our energy into building these coalitions and pushing whoever our elected officials are towards radical, systemic change.

The President is Not Our Leader…

…the youth climate justice movement, organized by BIPOC youth, is! Politicians are isolated from everyday people and reluctant to make big changes. The youth climate justice movement challenges the status quo and offers radical hope for climate justice. It’s our future on the line, and we have no time to waste. Unlike politicians, we are realistic about the dangers of the climate crisis and throw ourselves behind solutions that are just for people and the planet. 

You may have heard about us in the news, striking from school. You may have seen us in the streets, protesting tar sands pipelines or fracking. You may have joined in our victory when our colleges divested from fossil fuels. And you may have heard of our climate plan that equally centers fair wages, Native sovereignty, clean air, health care, immigrant rights, and many other socially just solutions. 

We aren’t waiting until tomorrow to enact our vision for the future. We’re doing it now. The way we organize directly contrasts the unjust organization of our world. For example, our political system and other many organizations are organized hierarchically, with someone at the top shouting down orders to those at the bottom; not everyone is equally represented and those with money have the most power. But we organize horizontally, collaborating as equals sharing power. We work to form coalitions and friendships of genuine trust through relational organizing. Self-care is of the utmost importance, and we challenge damaging notions of hyper-productivity. 

Our decision-making that all voices are heard. In every possible avenue, we look to the leadership of Indigenous peoples, people of color, gender and sexual minorities, undocumented people, people with disabilities, and people living in poverty. We center those most affected by the climate crisis and join in coalitions with others striving for social justice. 

Wouldn’t it be great if our political system and our world looked like this? If everyone shared power, had an equal role in decision-making, and the marginalized led the way? Youth climate justice activists have a lot to teach about horizontal, relational, and participatory governance. 

What Are Local Youth Climate Justice Activists Up To? 

The Sunrise Movement is fighting for the Green New Deal in Colorado. Their principles are those of the broader youth climate movement: addressing climate change, creating jobs, nonviolence, storytelling, uniting with other movements, and fighting for the liberation of all people. 

Hailing from Boulder, Indigenous activist Xiuhtezcatl (pronounced “Shu-TEZ-caht”) Tonatiuh Martinez demonstrates the power of youth. He has leveraged youth’s right to a future safe from climate change, suing the US government for their failure to act on the climate crisis and becoming a plaintiff in Martinez v. Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission

Other youth in Colorado had been organizing massive climate strikes from school. Unhampered by the pandemic, they have now found ways to bring their climate strikes online, continuing to gain momentum.

Our Work Isn’t Over

Whatever the result of the election may be, our work is not over. No matter who becomes president, the power of the fossil fuel industry and institutionalized oppression will remain. Take a moment to celebrate (or mourn), then begin again. Organize in solidarity with youth climate justice activists. Listen to what they’re saying and how they’re organizing. It is their sense of urgency that will compel us to make the radical change necessary for addressing the climate crisis.

Feeling inspired? Support Colorado’s movement for climate justice now and beyond election day with a donation!