The youth activists behind environmental advocacy
By Kacey Deamer
They jammed to the Spice Girls and Blink-182 in the ’90s. They lived through Y2K and the turn of the millennium. They saw the Twin Towers fall. They graduated high school. Now, they have a job to do.
They are Generation X, and they are Mother Earth’s new janitorial crew.
College students have become the heart and soul of the modern environmental movement. From front stage activism to backstage clean up, our generation is covering all of the corners.
Front and center activism was seen around the country this fall. One such event was Appalachia Rising, which the organizers described as “an unprecedented gathering of Appalachian people and their allies in the movement to abolish all forms of surface mining.” Held Sept. 25-27 in Washington, D.C., the weekend focused on ending the environmental and human health issue that is mountaintop removal coal mining. Appalachia Rising
The event culminated on Monday with a rally, march around D.C. and a protest at the White House with more than 2,000 people. In acts of non-violent civil disobedience, over 100 people intentionally got arrested to bring attention to the issue, many of them young folks, including three George Mason University students.
One of those three students was first-year music education major Holly Smucker. She told GMU’s Mason Goes Green blog, “Mountaintop Removal is an awful practice that is not only destroying the mountain, but polluting the water and killing the citizens of Appalachia. Our message [that weekend] to the EPA and to Obama needed to be voiced loud and clear: We weren’t going to move until they abolished mountaintop removal. In fact, if they hadn’t arrested us we might have still been out there square dancing and chanting.” Smucker Mason Goes Green
Students like Smucker and her fellow activist peers are bringing the environmental movement into the forefront with an “in your face” approach to the need for change.
Ithaca College is also taking on environmental change. Emma Hileman, a senior environmental studies major, is one of IC’s environmental leaders. She serves as co-president of ICES (Ithaca College Environmental Society), co-manager of the Organic Grower’s community garden and co-intern for ICNL (Ithaca College Natural Lands).
“Primarily these organizations are geared toward environmental awareness for the Ithaca College community,” Hileman said.
The first stage in improving our environment is getting back to our roots and actually interacting with nature, according to Hileman. “Each of the organizations, in their own little way, leads people of the Ithaca College community to become more aware of their environment,” she said.
The movement goes beyond college students, however. Recent graduates are continuing their fight for environmental justice after leaving campus. Colin Bennett of Connecticut is one such person. Bennett has acted as director of STEP (Student Training for Environmental Protection) for the past two years. STEP
STEP is a “weeklong course designed to give students the skills they need to become effective environmental advocates,” explained Bennett. Grassroots organization skills are specifically focused on during the program.
Beyond helping to garner young environmental activists, Bennett has done some of the “dirty janitorial work” as well. One of his more recent and larger jobs was helping to clean up after the Gulf oil spill. As a member of the Coast Guard, Bennett was called into action this summer to help clean up the mess created by BP.
Stationed in the Delta National Wildlife Refuge, Delta Nation Wildlife Refuge Bennett and a group of around 30 people worked to clean up what others had done to Mother Earth. “Most of the crew was under 30 years old. All of our crew were males, except for a female medic,” Bennett said. He explained that the crew was a racially diverse group, “including blacks, whites and Latinos including people from Vietnam, Mexico, Guatemala and Peru.”
Ithaca College alum and former Buzzsaw editor Kate Sheppard (’06) is also bringing attention to environmental issues. Sheppard wasn’t deeply involved in environmental issues while on campus but has become a leading environmental journalist for Mother Jones.
A nonprofit news organization, Mother Jones specializes in investigative, political and social justice reporting. The organization produces a bimonthly national magazine and a website featuring new, original reporting. Mother Jones
While reporting on climate and energy news in Washington, D.C., Sheppard is in the midst of young folks fighting for environmental liberation.
“I know a lot of young people [in D.C.] who aren’t really interested in working with the older environmental groups. They want to take a new path,” Sheppard said, continuing, “Young people have a different view of what’s going on.”
Sheppard doesn’t consider herself a true “janitor of the Earth”; “I cover topics as a reporter rather than an activist,” she said. She could be described as the person on the PA system, saying, “Cleanup on aisle 5.”
Generation X has a big job ahead of them, one that will require more than just a mop and broom. Young environmental leaders are emerging every day, but there is a lot of weight on their shoulders. If young environmentalists can bring their fresh outlook to the more established organizations, there may be a future for this planet.
Kacey Deamer is a sophomore journalism and environmental studies major who wants to broom sweepa moppa sweepa moppa sweepa broom. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.