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Executively Speaking: Following Youth Towards Climate Justice

by Michael Saxe-Taller, Executive Director

For several years now the magnitude of the world-wide climate crisis has been lingering like a dark cloud at the edge of my consciousness. I know that enormous harm is being done to our planet, that millions of people’s lives are already affected in devastating ways and that we have a limited window of time to act before major parts of the damage are irreparable.

Having that intellectual understanding has not made it easy to move myself into action to respond to the crisis.  I have felt overwhelmed with the enormity of the challenge and discouraged about what I, as an individual, can do about it.

A couple of experiences have begun to shift my ability to take action. At the March for Climate Jobs and Justice, ahead of the September 2018 Global Climate Action Summit, I joined a Shabbat gathering before the march. I felt a connection to the Jews as well as the allies who joined us for services. It was the first time I had gathered with Jews in the context of fighting climate change. I could tell that looking at this issue from within my Jewish community and my Jewish life was essential. I felt inspired that day, but afterwards I still struggled with how to move forward.

My most pivotal experience came a year later. Several Kehilla youth, including my son Sam, are part of the leadership of Youth Vs. Apocalypse (YVA), a diverse group of climate justice activists working together to lift the voices of youth, in particular, youth of color, and to fight for a livable climate and an equitable, sustainable, and just world.  YVA was the lead organization that coordinated the Youth Climate Strike and led a march in San Francisco.

I walked in the march and it was a beautiful sight to behold. A powerful band of young people, predominantly Indigenous youth and Youth of Color, held banners and led tens of thousands of people as they marched through downtown San Francisco. We stopped at numerous locations and, using incisive chants, demanded that the elected officials, businesses and financial institutions take immediate action to combat climate change.

I was moved to tears as I watched the resolve and confidence of these youth activists. I understood that the movement for climate justice was already being led by youth and it was my role to follow their lead. I left that experience clear that it was time to move into action to back youth (as well as Indigenous activists and activists of color) and, remembering what I had learned a year earlier, that the best place for me to make that happen would be with my Jewish community.

I am proud and excited to say that Kehilla is about to take a major step towards climate justice and will back youth and Indigenous leadership in the process. The Kehilla Generosity Committee is spearheading the organizing of a major program this spring – Visioning Climate Justice: Embracing the Wisdom of Indigenous Leadership and Youth Activism, on Saturday evening, March 28 at the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley. We will have the opportunity to hear from Ohlone leader Corrina Gould and a panel of youth climate activists. We will learn their perspective on the current situation, their ideas for how we move forward and their desires for how we can support their leadership.

I hope you can be there with us and you can find your own sense of hope and possibility as we together take on this essential challenge to our lives and our planet.

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