Middle school student activists write their elected representatives to urge climate action.
By Reynard Loki
In 2019, Earth | Food | Life writing fellow Lucy Goodchild van Hilten, a science writer and mother of a young child, wrote a piece titled, “How to Talk to Kids About Climate Change.” Now I am pleased to report on the other side of that coin: How kids talk to adults about climate change.
It all started a few weeks ago when my friend Christine Willis invited me to speak to her seventh grade class at the Math and Science Exploratory School in Brooklyn, New York. Christine and her co-teacher Allison Pariani wanted their students—who are all quite aware of the various impacts of climate change—to grasp the power and potential of persuasive writing and thought that my work as an advocacy journalist would help. At the recommendation of another friend, Megan Dyer, herself a New York-based climate activist with Mothers Out Front and mother of a 12-year-old and a 15-year-old, I had the class sit in a circle to create a space where we could exchange ideas as peers.
As Dyer told me, “Kids are so used to being talked to; so they love when they are heard.” Instead of presenting to them, I simply asked them questions to get to the activity I had in mind: Write letters to five of their elected legislators: Senator Chuck Schumer, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Representative Hakeem Jeffries, State Senator Jabari Brisport and State Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon.
In the circle, I asked them what journalism was, and what advocacy meant. Through this, they were able to figure out for themselves what “advocacy journalism” was—journalism with a point of view; in my case, it’s about getting consumers, voters, community members, public officials and legislators to take action to stem the climate crisis. I told them that part of what I do as an advocacy journalist covering the environment is to provide readers not only with facts about the climate crisis but also to show them ways to get involved in solutions. One direct way to get involved is to tell our elected representatives how we would like them to vote on bills and budgets that can have a meaningful impact on the climate fight. I showed them how to look up their elected representatives via OpenStates.org.