YVA started as a group of Oakland youth, supported by adults in their community, using direct action and lobbying to fight a proposed coal terminal in their city, then expanded its focus to other climate justice issues. After a video with youth from YVA pushing Senator Feinstein to support the Green New Deal went viral, YVA students organized press conferences, gave interviews, wrote Op Eds, and developed a website, Weeks after the viral encounter, in March 2019, YVA led a Climate Strike of 2000 youth and allies. Feinstien pulled her weaker version of the Deal.
By September,YVA organized a crowd of 30,000, after working as a group to develop an intersectional set of targets and demands, organizing transportation for thousands of students from around the Bay Area, and connecting with dozens of labor and community groups, many of whom took climate action for the first time. YVA youth have supported climate actions across the state, taken leadership on local and statewide campaigns, and continued their presence in national media. Days after YVA leaders helped organize a march in LA pushing Governor Newsom, he issued new protections from fossil fuel extraction. After a series of actions, including an occupation, at BlackRock, their CEO drastically improved his companies climate priorities. YVA is a local group of young people who are impacting national conversations on climate.
YVA is expanding and redefining who leads in the climate movement because we have a base-building community-organizing model that works: we go into schools and communities and meet people where they are at. We present in real terms the science and history of our ecological crisis. We respect young people and support them to lead, whether they are 11 or 17 years old, whether they get in trouble in class or not, whether they have a stable home or not, whether they previously considered themselves “leaders” or “environmentalists” or not.
YVA is led by a “lead circle” of 12 dedicated activists, ages 12-18, who collaborative set agendas, demands and campaigns, with the support of 3 staff members, and an advisory board of adult supporters. Every year, hundreds of middle and high school students encounter YVA through school based presentations, and dozens become more involved through school-based clubs in underserved middle and high schools, where youth are supported to take collective and direct action for climate justice, while building skills and community. This year over 40 students have joined our annual fellowship, where they are supported to develop activist skills, practice leadership, and build a regional community. YVA is actively involved in several local, statewide, and national campaigns and is pulling together a coalition of many local groups to plan for a mass climate action in April, 2020.
This model of tiered engagement, intersectional analysis, and active adult support for youth leadership has the potential to be replicated in other communities, and to continue growing the breadth and depth of the climate movement.