The Silicon Valley Youth Climate Strike is a local organization dedicated to fighting the climate crisis by changing policy on a local and national level while advocating for the Green New Deal. The organization started small with just three teenagers, and in the span of a year, they now have almost a hundred organizers locally fighting together for our future. SVYCS began in March 2019 because they wanted to join the efforts of youth around the world who were leading strikes from school and work to protest widespread government inaction regarding the climate crisis. Read this interview with co-founder, Jamie Minden, to learn more about how youth can get involved with the cause.
What was the first project ever executed by SVYCS? How was it able to help you gain traction as an organization?
Back in May 2019, SVYCS was founded when we organized a small climate strike in Downtown San Jose. There were only about 40 attendees and one guest speaker from our representative’s office, but the energy in the air was an indicator of the massive change that was to come. That first strike was organized by three tired 16 year olds, but it gave way to the powerful, youth-led organization that SVYCS is today. It has been just over a year since that first strike, and in that time we have organized demonstrations at DNC events, phonebanked for progressive candidates, published op-Ed’s, appeared on TV, spoken at countless City Council meetings, presented educational webinars, organized a 3,000-attendee strike, and even canvassed for supporters in dinosaur costumes. Our organization’s work has assisted in passing a wave of progressive climate related legislation in cities across the valley, benefiting everything from public transit and sustainability task forces to natural gas reach codes.
Why is youth involvement so important for making progress in advocating for climate-conscious policies?
Teenagers don’t often speak at City Council meetings, or lead protests, so our organizers definitely turn heads when we show up to make change. Even the presence of a single youth can have an effect on policy. For example, I spoke at one particular meeting in favor of Mountain View adopting a Reach Code to ban natural gas in all new developments, and while I was by no means the only activist speaking, I was the only teenager there.
Plenty of community members eloquently voiced their support for the Reach Code, as many of them had been doing for months, but it was my presence that had the most notable effect on the council, simply because my age reminded them what was at stake if they failed to act. After I spoke, one of the council members advocated for an even stronger reach code than had originally been discussed, citing that her high school aged children had confided with her that they and their friends were worried for their futures because of persistent governmental climate inaction.
As a result, Mountain View became (to my knowledge) the third city in the nation to adopt this sort of natural gas ban, and the councilwoman’s recommendations for a more inclusive ban were accepted and passed, paving the way for about 27 (and counting) California cities to pass similar natural gas bans. It’s not necessarily our exact words that make an impression, it is young people’s stake in this fight that makes people sit up when we speak out.
Our generation’s actions make the difference. Show up, and things will change.
What are SVYCS’s goals going forward amidst the COVID-19 pandemic? What do you hope to accomplish with them?
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were forced to postpone one of our biggest climate strikes yet, but despite the challenges, we have accomplished more than we dreamed was possible from home. Because of the unpredictability of the current political climate, we have had trouble setting concrete summer goals, and have instead opted to tackle each problem as it arises. We have taken the opportunity since the beginning of quarantine to affect policy from home, joining mass phone banks for Green New Deal candidates Jamaal Bowman and Charles Booker.
Thanks to the efforts of Sunrise Movement organizers across the country, Bowman won by a landslide against an entrenched incumbent supported by the establishment, and despite impossible odds created by voter suppression, Booker is neck-and-neck with his opposition.
Our organizers have gotten creative from home, organizing webinars and teach-ins, live-streaming fireside chats reminiscent of Franklin Roosevelt, speaking at City Council meetings via zoom, planning Green New Deal art takeovers, and strengthening partnerships with like-minded organizations.
Our organization has also spent the past few weeks protesting in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and advocating against police corruption as well as in favor of defunding the police, recognising environmental racism and the intersectionality between climate change and racial discrimination.
Were there any challenges you faced as a youth-led organization? How did you overcome them?
I would say that the biggest challenge of being a youth-led organization is simply lack of experience. We have had to learn everything on the fly, and sometimes that means a project or two not going exactly how we envisioned them. For example, our co-lead, Helen, did a great job putting together an official structure for our organizers back in January, but being teenagers, none of us have ever had to invent a management structure before, so the transition was not as efficient as it could have been. However, the upside to failure is that you learn quickly. We are in the process of shifting our structure with the help of adult mentors to optimise efficiency and communication. This updated structure is steadily becoming a lateral hierarchy that I believe will be more successful than many management structures in large corporations today.
Youth organizing is hard work, but the work is incredibly rewarding.
How are you able to effectively spread the word about upcoming strikes and events organized by SVYCS?
When we decide to organize a strike, we have a vast network of amazing people who get the word out. Our Outreach Team has spent months honing a Student Ambassador program, training student representatives at schools across the South Bay to recruit teens to the movement, as well as spread the word about upcoming events. Our amazing partner organizations spread the word far and wide about our events, and of course everything goes up on our website and social media platforms.
Considering the current climate landscape, what policies do you hope to see implemented that will reduce the impact of climate change?
Our organization is fighting for the Green New Deal: a series of policies to solve the climate crisis in a way that is just for both the people and the planet. Ending the climate crisis is going to be a lot of work- we will have to completely transition almost every aspect of our society from infrastructure to agriculture. This transition is going to take a lot of work, and it will create millions of jobs for the American people. The Green New Deal calls not only for the urgently needed transition from fossil fuels, but also for a wave of human rights policies to ensure that workers will be rewarded with just wages, Medicare for all, and non-discriminatory hiring practices. The Green New Deal is precisely the political revolution our country needs to pull us out of the Climate Crisis and the economic recession/depression created by COVID-19.
How can kids and teenagers who are currently at home due to COVID-19 play a role in contributing to climate change progress?
As a result of recent events, from coronavirus to police brutality, people are becoming increasingly politically active, so there are hundreds if not thousands of ways to get involved. I would highly recommend joining the Sunrise Movement. Silicon Valley Youth Climate Strikes is currently in the midst of rebranding to become Sunrise Silicon Valley to join a larger coalition of organizers, and we would love you to join us. (The nature of our work will not be changing as a result of this rebranding, our group will just be combining with more local organizers to create an even stronger group.)
The National Sunrise Movement was quick to pivot at the beginning of shelter-in-place, using zoom to train thousands of students nationwide to become organizers in just a few weeks time.
Join the national Sunrise Movement to get connected to general classes and trainings, and join Silicon Valley Sunrise to get connected to local activists and get organizing. We need all of the help we can get.
What are your favorite TV shows?
Jamie: Derry Girls is my favorite.
You have to remember to not take yourself too seriously :)
Check out their socials!