I didn’t vote in the last election, and I won’t vote in the next one. I’m a rising senior in high school and won’t turn eighteen until next April. I used to think of my lack of institutional power vis a vis the voting booth as an insurmountable weakness: my opinions wouldn’t be heard! My elected officials wouldn’t listen to me! How could I help affect real and positive change in my community and my government if I had no real voice? My lack of voting power has always been frustrating, but never so much as it has been these last few years.
As I’ve worked my way through school, I’ve learned so much more not only about the extent to which climate change is destroying ours and other communities, but how blind an eye my elected officials have turned to it. Hearing Scott Wagner, a state senator and the man running to become my governor, flout the basic facts of man-made climate change after he took $200,000 from the oil and gas CEOs that created it was absolutely infuriating. More infuriating, though, was feeling like I was powerless to do anything to do anything about it to stop him. That’s where Sunrise comes in.
More than five million people have watched my fellow volunteer, Rose Strauss, call Wagner out on his corruption. Instead of responding, he called her “young and naive”- a phrase meant to make her and everyone like her (young, passionate, and concerned about our communities) feel small and silly and powerless.
For us, though, he did the opposite.
On Saturday, Sunrise volunteers and almost 50 members of the Downingtown community came together for our “Young and Naive” rally. We were there to come out against the kind of corruption and ignorance Wagner represents and to support the “young and naive” volunteers, organizers, and community members who are fighting to make sure people like him don’t stay in power for long.
John Fetterman, candidate for lieutenant governor, came with “Young and Naive” t-shirts and strong support for our movement. Danielle Otten, candidate for state house district 155, came and spoke bravely and passionately about the need for our elected officials to represent their constituents, not industry profits. And Sunrise volunteers almost brought tears to my eyes with their heartfelt stories and impassioned calls for action and change. Afterwards, we broke out into groups and knocked on more than 2,250 doors, to elect officials we know will represent us- and that understand basic climate science. We took Wagner’s demeaning remarks and made something beautiful and powerful out of them.
Being part of Sunrise is incredibly empowering. It’s taking part in concrete action, every single day. It’s going out and knocking on doors, talking to our communities and registering voters,. It’s organizing rallies and speaking up and out every single time we see negligence, corruption, and injustice. I feel all the time like I am part of creating real, positive change. I still don’t have institutional power, and I am young — but I am not naive.
If thinking that my politicians should prioritize the preservation of the air I breathe and the water I drink and the safety of our communities over industry profit, or if thinking that I have the power to create change makes politicians call me young and naive, then please, go ahead and call me young and naive. I won’t be listening because I’ll be out in the streets with Sunrise, fighting for a better tomorrow.