Recently the Australian Youth Climate Coalition celebrated their 10 year anniversary. That is no mean feat for an organisation that had its first meetings in a pub and has grown to mobilise tens of thousands of young people. AYCC has sent delegations to United Nations Climate Conferences, it has trained hundreds of young activists, it has made national and international headlines, and has lobbied politicians in both the conventional format at Parliament House, and the less conventional format – dressed up in adult sized plush toy suits.
Elephant in the room?
I joined the AYCC almost immediately after I left high school. It followed a sequence of volunteering stints at different organisations that left me feeling like I could never make enough, or the right, contribution to try and help fix some of the problems that our planet faces.
Because my neuroticism started early (and started hard) I remember sitting on the floor of my bedroom one Saturday afternoon and wrote a list of every single problem I thought plagued the world. From cancer to the weird brain disease that affects a family member, to refugees and internally displaced people, to war and famine and climate change.
I decided that climate change was the one single, greatest threat that faced humanity and so that’s where I wanted to invest my energy. The next day I contacted AYCC and had an interview with Anna and Amanda about what I could do to help.
And thus began three years of devoting every moment I wasn’t in class (or every moment I should have been in class but thought I could get away with it) to the AYCC.
And it was remarkable.
With Amanda, George, several hundred young people and many, many Green hard hats
We organised PowerShift – definitely the most ridiculous, stressful, enormous mission I had ever been a part of. I lost my vision at one point from the stress, lack of sleep and teenager malnutrition; I met the first love of my life; and I worked with some of the most passionate and determined people I have ever met. It was a heady, fantastic, awfully stressful time.
Hundreds of young people descended on the Opera House steps and did a giant flashmob much to the surprise and delight of bystanders. You can watch it here. I just rewatched it and got a little emotional. It was, and is, an extraordinary thing that the AYCC could persuade so many people to take part in something so ridiculous, and so brazen and so hopeful on the steps of one of the most iconic institutions in the country.
With the phenomenal Jane Stabb
We went to Cancun, Mexico for COP16 and called on the Australian Government to do more to tackle dangerous global warming. We joined with young people from right around the world to urge the international community to put our lives, and the lives of our children, ahead of short term profits. We met with politicians and scientists, we stood with NGOs and talked to the media and tried to build public pressure for action.
With the wonderful Heather Bruer.
(It was also at this time that I unfortunately grew one fat dreadlock out the back of my head that split into three little little dreadies.)
That’s not say that the AYCC was perfect. Of course it wasn’t, and I’m sure – while I am blown away with the progress that it’s made – that it’s not perfect now. But it did something that no other organisation had done before in Australia; and that was bring together thousands of young people to give a real and unmissable face to global warming, and give young people the skills they needed to organise for change.
I used to give the AYCC a fair bit of flack for its positive, loving, often very touchy-feely approach to team welfare and to culture — particularly under the steady hands of Kirsty and Lucy.
I regret that now.
While I am not a person who enjoys participating in group hugs or sharing beds with friends at AYCC training camps; I now have a much greater appreciation for what those gestures really mean in a society that is becoming hyper individualistic, separated and reluctantly accepting of the status quo.
AYCC taught me how to be genuinely hopeful, and it taught me how to fight of despair because it is very difficult to despair when thousands of other young people are fighting alongside you.
Arguably it’s also hard to despair when you look like this.
So, thank you.
Thank you to the AYCC, to the women who championed it and to the many, many people who made it all possible.