Activism, to us

by Erin Sommers, Leon M. Goldstein High School

The beginning of your Yale career presents an amazing opportunity to explore potential interests and try new things, and campus activism is an incredible place to start. Through boldly addressing issues that exist within the Yale community and beyond, you can help push the university to become a more sustainable and progressive institution by simultaneously advancing environmental justice and exploring different positions within a diverse, interdisciplinary environmental movement. With countless student-led organizations, university initiatives, and events at your disposal, these four years can be instrumental in helping you define your identity as an activist, allowing you to freely experiment with what that means to you. 

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Before exploring the ways you can take part in environmental advocacy, it is important to understand what constitutes activism in the first place. Activism can be loosely defined as acting upon something that you care about. Though many may associate environmental activism with more deliberate, physical acts, such as protests and demonstrations, environmental change depends on a diverse suite of acts. Any way, big or small, that you consciously engage with and bring attention to an environmental cause can be deemed activism. This includes protests, but it also includes environmental art – whether that be through photography, songwriting, journalism, graphic design, or any other method. You decide how activism most naturally and impactfully takes form within your own life and aligns with your values.

Prior to taking action, it is important to recognize the different philosophies that activists bring to their environmentalism. Some environmental activists focus on finding concrete solutions to a specific environmental issue in their communities (referred to as solution-driven activism) while others seek to lobby for more environmentally-conscious policies. Activists can be found advocating for the conservation of ecosystems and Earth’s resources. They are also on the streets, fighting for environmental equity

As an environmental activist, however, there is no need to choose. Environmentalism hinges on a diversity of approaches. Activists can be seen in decision-making spaces at climate conferences, while also engaging in protests occurring outside of its confines. They understand the complexity of the challenges before us, and they recognize that systemic problems will not be solved overnight. 

In a pandemic-stricken and racially unequal world, environmental activism is necessarily interdisciplinary. It is inextricably linked to public health and social justice. Environmental activists right now are planning their actions virtually, analyzing the global measures and responses taken to the pandemic to inform their own decisions for climate action. They recognize that just like the pandemic, climate change cannot be contained within concrete boundaries nor separated from its unequal racial dimensions. Activists are increasingly highlighting how environmentalism demands a recognition of systemic racism, including the disproportionate impacts of climate change on communities of color and the predominant “whiteness” of many environmental spaces. Only through multifaceted, equitable solutions can individuals treat climate change as the systemic issue that it is and attack social justice issues head-on. Uplifting the voices of Black and Indigenous activists in global environmental dialogues and acknowledging environmental privilege are only some of the ways activists can help deconstruct the racial and colonial barriers of environmental spaces. By actively recognizing and intentionally acting upon this inherent connection between environmental and social issues, environmental activists lay the groundwork to make lasting, meaningful, needed change.

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At Yale, environmental dialogue is not limited to the classroom. It pervades all aspects of college life, with initiatives spearheaded by students and administration alike. In discovering your own voice as an activist, you will find yourself among a community of environmentally-aware individuals, united by a common desire to make change – in more ways than one.

Published in August 2020.