Meet a Greenpeace Volunteer: Vrinda Suresh Organizes for Climate Justice

by Adrian Martinez

April 5, 2017

Young people may not have created the climate crisis, but they’ll suffer the impacts. So folks like 17-year-old Vrinda Suresh are skilling up, organizing their peers, and fighting for a climate-safe future.

Workshop at the Bay Area Youth Climate Action Conference

Youth color during a workshop at the Bay Area Youth Climate Action Conference in March 2017. Photo by Michael Schiff.

The climate movement as a whole faces huge challenges under the Trump administration, from the resurrection of projects like the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines to a budget that puts corporate profits before clean air and water. But its younger generations that will suffer the most from the long-term effects of Trump’s anti-environment policies.

That’s why young organizers are coming together to figure out how to continue the fight for climate justice.

I caught up with one of those young leaders, Bay Area Youth for Climate Action (BAYCA) organizer and Greenpeace volunteer Vrinda Suresh, who at 17 is building power by convening workshops and skillshares for climate justice organizers. Our conversation spanned everything from creative storytelling to intersectional resistance to Vrinda’s start in organizing — here’s what she had to say.  

How did you get started in environmental activism and become involved with Greenpeace?

As a kid, I was your typical animal lover, so when my third grade teacher gave my class a presentation about climate change I was pretty freaked out. The penguins! The polar bears!

Then in ninth grade, I took an environmental science class, which pretty much cemented my interest in the environment. I wanted to take action somehow, but my school didn’t have any environmental clubs or related student organizations. Solution? Start one.

At first, I was looking into various organizations that could help me establish my own group, particularly the Sierra Club. But then, kind of fortuitously, I met Annie Leonard. This was actually before she became executive director of Greenpeace USA. But once she got the position, she was able to get me connected with some great folks at Greenpeace and in 2015 they helped me establish a group and get involved in campaigns they were working on.

Tell me more about BAYCA and how you decided to host a gathering focusing on intersectional issues in the fight for climate justice?

BAYCA is a youth-run organization that I co-founded with Rose Strauss. Rose actually reached out to me through Greenwire out of the blue one day, and was kind of freaking out about climate change and wanted to do something to get involved. We ended up setting up a meeting in Oakland to brainstorm actions we could take in our schools and communities.

One of the biggest things we thought we needed to address was education, so we planned our first climate conference in February of 2016, with speakers from Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and 350 Bay Area. It was super small and not very well-organized, but 350 Bay Area really liked the idea so they decided to help fund our second conference, which was on March 11, 2017.

We knew we wanted to really get to the roots of environmental issues, and reach out to communities that could really learn and take something away from the experience. But often, environmentalism is seen as something that’s just for the privileged. Like, “you have no actual problems you need to deal with on a daily basis, so you care about the environment.” I mean, obviously that’s partially true. If you’re struggling to keep a roof over your head, socioeconomic issues would probably be more concerning to you than the fact that polar bears are dying.

That’s why I suggested focusing on intersectionality at our conference. Because socioeconomic (and other) issues are very much connected to the environment. I thought the best way to draw in and engage a diverse group of attendees would be to offer workshops with diverse focuses.

What was your highlight from the conference?

On a very superficial level, I was really happy with the attendance. I think over 90 people ended up showing up, which is like, six times more than the number we had at our first conference!

Other than that, when I was walking around I was really excited to see a high level of engagement among the attendees. People seemed interested and excited to broaden their minds. They genuinely paid attention and participated. That was really the entire goal, and the fact we were able to achieve that was very gratifying.

What would you say to folks trying to host educational environmental justice events in their communities?

Ask for help and form coalitions with other groups! What made our conference successful ultimately was the fact that multiple organizations were involved (as speakers and workshop facilitators). They were there not just there to learn, but also to share their own concerns and passions.

If we want to build a successful environmental movement and gain the support of of a variety of people, we need to listen to what it is they really care about. Building connections strengthens our cause!

Keynote at the Bay Area Youth Climate Action Conference

Keynote speech at the Bay Area Youth Climate Action Conference in March 2017. Photo by Michael Schiff.

Greenpeace would like to extend a special thanks to the groups that brought this conference to life, including: Bay Area Youth for Climate Action, East Bay Academy for Young Scientists, Skyline Green Academy, Oakland Leaf, BAY Peace, Earth Guardians, Movement Generation, 67 Suenos, Jewish Youth for Community Action, Urban Promise, Rose Foundation, and 350 Bay Area.

Adrian Martinez

By Adrian Martinez

Adrian is a Latinx, disabled, transgender cultural worker based in California. A musician, organizer, educator, and leader, Adrian combines art, spirit, community organizing, and political fury to rage against systems of oppression. Adrian began community organizing in 2004 and continues to resist oppressive structures, educate policymakers, and usher healing spaces in queer fashion.

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