BREAKING FREE: Youth Activism and Climate Change Leadership

By conference convener, Stephanie Mines – a review of the book, We Rise, authored by CCC19 presenter, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez.

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez

“Break free from the traditional tactics of activism and evaluate your skill set, as well as the unique and fresh perspective you bring. Make a difference and have a hell of a good time doing it.” ~ Xiuhtezcatl Martinez

Xiuhtezcatl5dI have been carrying Xiuhtezcatl Martinez’s new book We Rise around with me wherever I go for the last few weeks. Whenever I take it out of my backpack his riveting eyes lock with mine as if to ask, “What about you? What are you doing right now to make a difference? I am speaking to you.”

This book, like Xiuhtezcatl (pronounced ‘Shoe-Tez-Caht) himself, is a multi-tasker. It is a lineage transmission, a biography, a solution based guidebook for guardians of the Earth, a strategic handbook for collective action and a poetry book.

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is one of the presenters at Climate Change & Consciousness: Our Legacy for the Earth. He is also a defendant n Juliana vs. US. The progress of this case parallels Xiuhtezcatl’s life which is like a mythic tale of the young man who, realizing that his mother was in danger, persevered courageously to save her, found allies along the way, and never gave up until she and her future children were all safe.

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez2Juliana vs. US, a case in which 21 young people are suing the United States Government for failing to protect them from environmental catastrophe is, like all the youth involved, courageous, innovative and unprecedented. While it has been delayed and pushed aside countless times, it is nevertheless on a straight, apparently unstoppable course to the US Supreme Court. Though the law suit preceded the initiation of Climate Change & Consciousness, it nevertheless highlights the conference’s Guiding Principle #4: That youth play a significant role and that their voices are heard. This is exactly what Xiuhtezcatl and his peers are insisting upon.

I was struck by the similarity between the way Xiuhtezcatl introduces his book and the way the Maori youth applying to Climate Change & Consciousness launch their introductions. Both first state their lineage. “I am Mexica,” Xiuhtezcatl begins. “My people….roamed to many different directions…and in 1325 they founded the great city of Tenochitlan. My grandfather Xolotl worked to rekindle ancient traditions of honoring the Earth, dancing to the Spirits, utilizing our sacred instruments. The prayers of our ancestors were answered. My people withstood disaster and despair. They came alive through art, culture, science and social evolution. My father grew up embracing ceremony.”

Like the Maori, Xiuhtezcatl, before saying anything else, tells of where he came from and who in his family line inspired him. In this relating we see that who he is cannot be separated from his origins. He draws on and translates the endurance and creativity of his people. He continues their transmission in an unbroken stream into this period of the Sixth Extinction that calls forth his inherited wisdom.

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez has been speaking publicly since he was 6 years old.

Xiuhtexcatl’s message is one of undaunted confidence and optimism but his book is much more than inspirational reading. It is a handbook for environmental activism aimed specifically at youth. Xiuhtexcatl’s gaze, his songs, his language, stance and palpable commitment say loud and clear that nothing can stop you from being an environmental activist. He learned, even as a small child, when his activism began that “size has nothing to do with an ability to effect change.” He instructs his readers to get on with it by identifying their specific contributions and finding, or building, their community.

“You can help to shift the world when you find your activist family,” he says. “It is important to find people who resonate with your values and are doing something about the injustices in the world that put those very values at risk.”

I relish how I am taking direction from a 17 year-old whose insights meet me where I am. Xiuhtezcatl’s book is the complete guide to climate change activism no matter how old you are. It has everything. There are interviews with people who have chosen activism despite stardom Shailene Woodley, Mark Ruffalo, Adrian Grenier, Suzy Amis Cameron and Dallas Goldtooth. There are instructions for maintaining a sustainable lifestyle through conscious food sourcing and financial divestment. There are strategic guidelines for building a movement and raising the money to fund it. There are poems and songs and reminiscences from stunning environmental turning points like Standing Rock and the birth of Earth Guardians.  Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is the historian of his era and the leader of a new generation of what he calls “Solutionarians.” These are the young people who have “the stories, the strategies, the knowledge and the vitality to resist injustice through the viable solutions they generate.”

At Climate Change & Consciousness Xiuhtezcatl Martinez will show us how to be solutionarians. He will do it through his passion, his language, his rap and his music. He will ignite the youthful energies in all of us by modeling with joy how to transform passion into action. This, he says, is the inoculation against burnout.

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