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Young folks rising

With the Climate Strike that happened - September 20 - the world saw the rise of many amazing young leaders. Most notably is youth activist Greta Thunberg, who recently sailed from Europe to the United States in order to protest climate change at the White House while avoiding the high-carbon impact of flying. In the Twin Cities we have Juwaria Jama, Isra Hirsi and Priya Dalal - young women still in high school, organizing the MN youth climate strike

It amazes me that despite being a climate activist in my young twenties, I find myself looking to people younger than me for strength and inspiration in the movement. We may be on the verge of auspicious, large-scale change. 

Fellow young nonprofit professionals, let’s rise together. Here are three important things to keep in mind in order for us to be at our most powerful as world-changers and climate activists:

Age does not mean wisdom. 

Don’t let older people tell you ‘You don’t know how the world is.’ ‘Experience’ is sometimes used as a synonym for wisdom. And yet here we sit on the verge of environmental collapse - having a mere 4500 days from our last chance to reverse climate change. We are also still dismantling the systems of colonization, racism, and patriarchy which have disenfranchised most of our country since it’s birth. 

As young professionals in the nonprofit sector, we have to be staunchly confident that our vision for our community is possible and achievable, that what we have to bring is valuable. Be clear about what’s at stake for you in the work you’re doing. Be willing to take risks in order to win the power you deserve. 

Fight the hegemony. 

We are building a world where justice & inclusion should be the dominant belief and value. Yet within the nonprofit world we re-create patterns of dysfunction - including competition and a scarcity mindset.  

This view is especially relevant in place-based nonprofits, who have started getting called out for viewing places as needing ‘fixing’. The creation of new approaches, such as asset-based community development can completely change the way we view our role as one which is building something, not repairing something. 

This is relevant not just in the mission, but in the way we relate to each other and the work. A good way of doing this is watching your language. Are we accepting that ‘busy’ is good, like it’s a word associated with status, loyalty, or commitment? Are we feeling guilty - or being guilted - over not doing enough? 

A good guide to this approach are the Jemez Principles of Democratic Organizing, especially the last principle; “As we change societies, we must change from operating on the mode of individualism to community-centeredness. We must “walk our talk.” We must be the values that we say we’re struggling for and we must be justice, be peace, be community”  

Make room for spirit. 

If we find a job in the nonprofit industrial complex, we sometimes find ourselves doing similar work with similar pressures as a for-profit job. 

Do you feel guilty after a long day - or half day - of doing “nothing”? When my friends tell me they feel bad for not being productive, I sarcastically remind them “Better get to work, then! You only have value if you’re producing.” 

Although working in the nonprofit sector often means we are making an effort to better something due to strong values, the actual experience can be extractive, exhausting, and demanding. Sometimes we are asked by our bosses to do extra, not just because we are young and have to pave our way, but because ‘you must believe in the mission’. Despite working for an organization which wants to better the community, we can face a similar system which demands from us everything we have. 

Make room for spirit. For joy, for saying no, for slowing down, for doing nothing. Let’s not just build stronger communities, but let’s build communities where we can do the work with loving joy. 

In the words of Adrien Marie Brown’s ‘Pleasure Activism’ - “Pleasure is the point. Feeling good is not frivolous, it is freedom.” Maybe your next out of office meeting could be on a walk, or at a bowling alley. 

I am excited to see a Minnesota where young people continue to rise with a fresh new hegemony in which all people can thrive. We are, after all, going to be the people living on this planet the longest. We have the most at stake. It’s worth our time and commitment to make sure we are at our most powerful. 


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