What We Need Now: Episode 2
Youth Activism, Voting History, Laughter and Hope
October 16, 2020
On letting youth lead, seizing the moment, and how we all can play the game to win–so we can change it.
In this episode of Greenpeace’s What We Need Now podcast, we discuss youth activism and leadership across the occupied United States.
Our host Rico Sisney speaks with Isha Clarke and Dulce Arias from Youth Vs. Apocalypse, “Bay Area-based diverse group of young climate justice activists” who are serious about taking climate action and bringing their creativity to motivate the masses to do the same. We explore their work to tackle climate change and how they’re using music to connect the 2020 election to their long term agenda, with their new song and video, “This is the Time”.
In this conversation, Youth Vs. Apocalypse poignantly calls out that “everyone who can vote, needs to” while also making space to address the real concerns around disillusionment in marginalized communities “that [are] a result of people being failed over and over and over again”.
Join us on this new episode of What We Need Now to be inspired by youth activists, get schooled on the history of voting, have a laugh during a word from our sponsors, and always be reminded that
“We Are Only Out of Time When We Lose Hope”
You can also check out the Take Action Toolkit from our first episode, where Rico and Ash speak with multi-disciplinary performance artist, community organizer, activist and writer Adwoa Addae. We’ll explore how Covid has made environmental racism’s impacts even greater and Adwoa imparts their wisdom on why we need to feel to get through it all.
EPISODE 2 TRANSCRIPT
What’s up y’all? My name is Rico Sisney and welcome to the “What We Need Now” Podcast by Greenpeace USA.
We know that people of color are not just disproportionately impacted by environmental issues, we are greatly concerned and very involved in tackling them. But too much of the conversation has separated climate, race, gender and class. Our goal is to uplift the voices at the grassroots of our movement to envision, equip, and empower each other on “What We Need Now” to build a better world for all of us.
Now, before we get into the episode, I have to give a huge shout out to Ash Williams who helped create and produce this podcast and until recently was my co-host. Although Ash is no longer working for Greenpeace, he’s continuing his critical anti-carcerality work to build alternatives to police and policing and organizing abolition at the intersections of gender, racial, reproductive, and environmental justice. The goal of “What We Need Now” is to uplift the work of grassroots leaders and we’ll continue to support their work going forward.
Now let’s get into it.
It’s all anyone can talk about, so we’re going to talk about it – the election. This historic moment with a whole lot at stake and what we need now to get through it.
And to be real, things are looking bleak, but there are incredible feats of organizing happening and we want to take a closer look specifically at what the youth are doing. The elusive youths. People love to say they aren’t at the polls, so where are they? Turns out they’re not too far, opting to operate locally on the grassroots level, creating bold platforms and gaining community support and buy-in.
- I’m just gonna quickly highlight a few and I apologize if I don’t mention your favorite org, but feel free to just shout them out in the comments wherever you’re listening to this podcast.
- BYP100 is a really dope national organization with chapters across the US. Their members are 18-35 year-old Black youth who organize to “end systems of anti-Blackness, patriarchal violence, and white supremacy all through a Black Queer Feminist Lens. They are fighting for the folks living on the margins of the margins, including Black women, girls, femmes and gender non-conforming people.” I highly recommend checking out their SheSafeWeSafe campaign to end gender-based violence, theur Agenda to Build Black Futures policy platform, the Black Joy Experience Mixtape,…and their exclusive swag. They have some really nice swag y’all.
- “The indigenous youth council was started and led by womxn and two-spirit peoples during the Standing Rock Indigenous Uprising while peacefully protecting the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.. They organize youth through education, spiritual practices and civic engagement. Another newer one, Freedom March NYC was started by two black women from Columbia University. They provide training to organizers in New york and other cities as well as supplies and support for non-violent protests leading up to the election.
And maybe you’re thinking youth are taking action now because, you know, quarantine’s got them bored in the house and in the house bored, but most of those organizations did not start this year. And lets not forget:
- The Fridays for Future global weekly school strikes for climate which started in 2018 and were not unlike the 16,000 child miners from Philly that marched on Washington, D.C in 1908 or the Soweto uprising when children took the streets for a peaceful demonstration in South Africa and were met with brutal police violence.
- And again, I’m skipping so many examples but the main point is that the youths are out here in these streets. Literally. And they have been.
Young people are leading fights for climate justice, racial justice, prison abolition, indigenous sovereignty and more, and – for the next month or so a lot of that energy is around the election.
While often the messaging of get out the vote focuses on individual responsibility, I can’t be mad at people who feel disillusioned with a democratic process that has worked so hard, for so long to lessen the power of folks’ vote, and their access to it.
Covid and the current administration have exacerbated some of the very real barriers to voting that have existed for marginalized people for a long time. So rather than shaming non-voters, the goal has to be to motivate and inform people, remove these barriers to voting and make sure that every vote is counted.
I highly recommend ballotopedia as a resource for info about voting and as always you can check out greenpeace.org/usa/whatweneednow to find links to pretty much everything we talk about on the show.
- Next up, we’re gonna be talking with Isha Clarke and Dulce Arias from Youth vs Apocalypse about the work they’re doing in the Bay area to confront climate change and inspire folks to participate in the 2020 election, but first, this.
[MID-ROLL JINGLE & AD]
This Episode of “What We Need Now” brought to you in part by Staying Home.
All over the country, cities and states are beginning to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day, rather than Columbus Day. [C-C-C-COLUMBUS DAY!]
Why celebrate someone who committed and enabled countless atrocities against black and native people when you could celebrate the people who’s land you are literally on?
Despite this, Columbus Day Sales [C-C-C-COLUMBUS DAY SALES!] remain a thing.
Need I remind you, we are still living in a global pandemic.
Even the president has caught “The Rona”
So, unless you’re headed out of the house for essential goods or to go to the polls for early voting, this “Columbus Day” why not do the one thing Cristobal Colombo should have done and stay the **** home?
[GUEST PANEL DISCUSSION pt. 1 ]
Isha, Dulce, welcome to the What We Need Now podcast. Before we get into it, could you each say your name, your pronouns, and what land you’re on so folks can recognize your voices?
Hi, my name is Dulce Arias and I’m 19 years old. My pronouns are she, her, hers. And I was born in Mexico, but came to this country when I was about like 5 but then the Bay Area became my home when I was seven years old and ever since I’ve been living here on stolen Ohlone Land, occupied Ohlone territory.
Hey y’all my name is Isha Clarke I’m 17. I’m an activist, born, raised, and educated in Oakland, CA, AKA occupied Ohlone territory. And I use she, her pronouns
Word. I’m also on occupied Ohlone territory, so we’re all in the Bay Area, but for obvious reasons, we’re not in the same space. But I thank you for being on the podcast today. So, I want to hear a little bit about Youth vs. Apocalypse. What do you all do? How did you get started?
Dulce, do you want to start, or should I?
I feel like you should start because you’re like the OG.
OK, So Youth vs. Apocalypse started as a group of young people to fight against Phil Tegami, who is a very powerful developer in Oakland and who was at the time, and still is, trying to build a coal terminal through West Oakland, which is a community that is predominantly working-class people of color. And. That campaign was called Youth vs Coal, and then from that campaign grew Youth vs. Apocalypse.
Why is it important to highlight Youth? Youth Vs. Coal and then Youth vs. Apocalypse? You put that first. Why is that framing important to you?
I think we like- emphasized like Youth vs Coal, Youth vs. Apocalypse because at the end of the day, we are literally the future. We’re the ones that are going to carry on like whatever crisis we’re in, and we’re the ones that are going to be like most affected by all the decisions everyone’s making right now. We’re like the people of tomorrow. So I feel like it’s really important for us to take the lead, even though, like it sucks that we have to because we have these adults who have like Hella power, you know? They have money. They get to like sit in like the -how do you call it? These important positions that us youth can’t because we have to go to school and basically literally like learn how to sell ourselves for money. But I feel like ever since like I became like an activist and organizer I feel like I could basically do anything and help my community instead of like waiting after I get like a bachelors or something and I feel like right now that’s super powerful because….I don’t know like school is just not for me and I hope to change it one day, but a lot of the times like the adults tell us to like wait until you get like a bachelors or like a degree in something and then start making the change and so right now for the youth. I feel like more– or like even before a lot of the youth know that they have like the power. And so they’re taking action and they’re accomplishing a lot of things. And I feel like in the little time that I’ve been with YvA, I feel like we’ve done together a lot of things that I truly didn’t think I could have if I like waited until I finish school.
I second that and I also like…I feel like people are kind of acting as if this is something new– like it’s not. Young people have been leading movements forever. I mean like every single big social movement was led by mostly young people. I mean like the civil rights movement…there was– I mean, if you want to go like young young, there was the Birmingham Children’s crusade where it was literally middle and high school students who walked out of school and had a significant impact on that specific time in that movement.
There was the Black Power movement that was started by two Laney college students and then had many middle school–I mean high school students that were joining and really like being th spine of that movement you know? So like, this isn’t new. This– young people are the people who consistently push the change that is needed in society.
Yes, you can’t see me, but I was– there was a lot of nodding. I gotta realize that in a podcast medium nodding is not how you give affirmation. I’m still new to this.
But yeah, I really, really appreciate both of what y’all just said because I agree. I don’t think it’s anything new. And I mean even thinking about, you know, John Lewis, who obviously there is a renewed focus on his work, he was very young when he got started with that work. I think he was like 17 when he met Rosa Parks.
So what is YVA working on right now?
We’re kind of doing a lot right now Dulce, do you want to talk about a little bit and then I can pick it up from there?
So Youth vs. Apocalypse is putting out a song. It’s called, “This is the Time” and it’s gonna be released on October 15. You can find it on Spotify, YouTube and Apple music and this song…basically it’s a contribution of different people in Youth vs. Apocalypse talking about like, the time is now to act and also encouraging people to get to the polls. Then there’s the campaign trying to put pressure at this big company who holds all the public school teacher pension funds in California and they’re actually investing it in fossil fuels. Which sucks, because it affects our own communities and also this like company named BlackRock, who are like literally funding De-struction in our communities in order to get money. Yeah, Isha do you wanna add?
Yeah. So I think, kind of just to like talk about the big picture for a second: for me, and I think really for everyone in Youth vs. Apocalypse, our purpose and our work is to acknowledge the fact that the reason why we are in this state of climate crisis, and really like all of the crises that we’re experiencing in this very apocalyptic moment, is because our country was founded on unsustainable, destructive systems of oppression. Systems of white supremacy and patriarchy and colonialism and capitalism. And because of that, in order to stop the climate crisis and to stop all of the crises that we’re experiencing right now, we have to dismantle that foundation and work to build a new foundation in its place that is envisioned by the communities who have been most hurt by these systems. And that is built on justice and true sustainability.
And that is the work of now and that is the work of Youth vs. Apocalypse, and so all of the campaigns that were in are working to do that in different ways. And this one specific campaign that we’re working on right now, that Dulce mentioned is called, “This is the Time”, and it’s really this multilayered national action where we are launching a pledge and we are trying to get young people under the age of 18 who can’t vote to mobilize their communities. To mobilize adult allies to sign this pledge to fight to leave us a livable and just society, and in that pledge it lists all of the things that that means, which is a lot. But to summarize, it’s basically creating a society in which everyone can thrive. And so there’s also a song and a music video that Dulce was talking about to get people’s attention. There’s this social media campaign. There’s a lot, so that’s my spiel.
Word. And I appreciate you talking about the vision and also what it looks like on the ground, which leads me to the vote. I want to hear how you’re connecting this long-term agenda, big systemic changes to the polls, which is a more immediate issue. How are you doing that? How do you make that connection?
We’ve been having a lot of conversations about this within YVA. Where… I’m like trying to figure out how to…how to talk about this because I think voting is such an important thing right now, and every person who can vote needs to vote, and at the same time, it is not only about voting, you know? It is about like– I was talking about before, creating this movement that has already been in the works to completely reimagine the entire way that we exist on this planet. And so I get the immediate push to vote, because that’s what’s happening right now in this moment, and it’s the most– one of the most pressing things right now. But the way that we’re thinking about voting is more as a step. Like it is one of the first steps in building this movement that we need in order to create the society that we want to see. Because the truth of the matter is that for people of color, for poor people, for Queer, Trans folks, for women, political systems and people in positions of political power have never been for us and have never done anything for us really. And so it’s about getting people in positions of power who are most in alignment with what we’re working towards and pushing the hell out of them every single day to get to where we need to be. It’s so much bigger than just, you know, ‘vote for whoever’ you know?
Yeah, I love that. Describing voting as a first step and when there are so many attacks on it, when it’s you know– when it’s made more difficult and all of that, obviously we’re going to put energy behind, not just making it safe for people, making sure their vote has power, and making sure people get out to the vote, but we have to maintain that we are still working for something longer term, right? And we’re not going to be done once we get these election results.
And also, like, let’s not ignore the fact. That American politics have failed us like in have failed people of color in that like and every systemically marginalized group of people. And like people, while I think that… I sincerely believe that everyone who can vote needs to vote and I will say that. But I also think like we can’t shame people for not wanting to, you know? Like we need to address that. That is a real concern and that is a real feeling that is a result of people being failed over and over and over and over again. And so that’s kind of just my call to people to like, be compassionate and to really think about what it is that people have experienced in this country. And that is like flowing through our DNA, you know? And how we walk through this world. Let’s have some compassion for that. And still, let’s tell our people to vote for it.
Yeah, I was just going to say like as an organizer, how do you meet people where there at? If people feel you know, disillusioned with this whole Democratic process or don’t feel motivated to vote. How do you message that to them?
I feel like in order to like, have change, like how you say– you kind of have to like meet people halfway. And it’s kind of like that for voting. Like you don’t agree with like the government but you have to meet them halfway and like at least try to vote. Especially because I feel like they’re like scared of the vote of people of color you know? Like it was not until, like the late 19-somethings when like the people of color could vote like indigenous people, black people and other?
[VOTING RIGHTS SEGUE]
So Dulce brings up a really straight-forward question with a very complicated answer. When did people of color in this country get the right to vote?
The simplest answer I could give is that black folks, indigneous folks and other people of color in this country have won the right to vote many times and been denied this right through changes in legislation and direct or indirect voting restrictions, which continue in varying degree to this day.
Two dates that might be familiar to you are 1865 when the the 13th amendment partially abolished slavery and 1870 when the fifteenth amendment prevented states from denying the vote on the grounds of race explicitly. What a lot of folks may not know is that
- Prior to the 1800’s some black wealthy men could vote in some places. In new jersey, voters included women property-owners as well. But then those places shifted from class-based to race-based voter discrimination, and those folks were no longer eligible.
- After the mexican-american war, the treaty of guadalupe-hidalgo meant that Mexicans living in territories gained by the US technically were citizens, but language barriers and intimidation limited access to voting.
- Between 1865 and 1870, the aforementioned amendments and the guarantee of citizenship to males born or naturalized in the U.S meant once again some black and other poc men could vote in some places, but during reconstruction poll taxes, literacy tests and the newly formed KKK prevented many black people and poor white folks from voting. If you’re listening to this on the website, I recommend clicking the link to the sample literacy test. It’s not as easy as you might expect.
- In 1876 a supreme court decision explicitly prevented indigneous folks from voting,
- The Chinese exclusion act barred people of chinese ancestry from becoming citizens in 1882
- The Dawes act granted US citizenship to indigenous folks willing to dissociate from their tribe in 1887,
- the 19th amendment prohibited states from denying the right to vote on the basis of sex explicitly in 1920
- 1924 Native Americans are technically granted citizenship but some states barred Native Americans from voting through 1957
- In 1965 civil rights organizers won the voting rights act to enforce the 14th and 15th amendment to eliminate poll taxes, and literacy tests and providing for bilingual ballots. This act meant that along with many black folks, my father and his mother voted for the 1st time in the same election. But as is the theme here, there were limitations (people convicted of felonies are not allowed to vote in some places for example)and a supreme court decision in 2013 rolled back many of those hard-won protections.
So again it’s not straightforward except to say people of color have been fighting for the right to vote since this country’s inception and that fight continues today.
And so I feel like…to me, like it’s important to like play their game, but to an extent. Not enough to like be as like hella oppressive like they are, but enough to like try to like play it more and at least like vote you know?
People react to the truth; like that is how you mobilize people. That’s how you get people to vote. That’s how you get people to, you know, take whatever action you’re doing if it’s rooted in truth and you’re telling that truth, then that’s going to get people. So I think like to go back to something that Dulce said, like systemically marginalized people understand what it means to ‘play the game’. You know? So if you talk about it in that way, if you say. “we know this is not ideal, like this is not an ideal time or situation for anybody,” you know? But it’s about playing the game to win and then change it and one of the ways that we do that is by using our voting power to get in the people who are most in alignment with what we want and like I said before it to keep pushing and pushing, and I think when you talk about it in that way with this larger context of. The fact that we’re fighting to dismantle all this **** like we’re fighting to completely reimagine the way that they we’re existing and in this moment we have to do this thing of voting and then we can step back and say, ‘OK, time to tear it down.’
Rico: Up next, we’re going to hear a little bit about Dulce and Isha’s art and the brand new song. “This is the Time” that YVA released earlier this week. But first, a word from our sponsors…
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[GUEST PANEL DISCUSSION pt. 2]
So Isha I met you in a context working on a project where you were doing aerial dance. And Dulce, I hear you got some bars…I hear you rap and do some graphic design. So I’m wondering if you could just talk about like what is the connection for you, between the art that you make and your activism?
Well, on a very like personal, individual level, I think that my art allows me to do the work that I do. Because for me, my dance, and writing or whatever I’m doing in the moment is therapy and allows me to release and process and step out of my mind, which is something that I can’t really do any other time. But on this, like larger level, I think art has always been a part of activism and social movements. It is the artist that sparked the inspiration and really allow people to understand these really complex concepts. Also, like in these times when everything is just so depressing and like there’s always something more horrible that’s happening man like. You need inspiration. You need music. You need dancing. You need beautiful photographs and videos and like. You need all of that like that is what keeps us going as a people and as the human race. So there’s that too.
Yes, I’m doing nodding again, but yes, I resonate with that for sure for sure. What about you Dulce?
For me, like at least I feel like Art is like very healing and how Isha, said therapeutic. That’s like a good and powerful and beautiful way to like, reach other people. And I know for like the song that we made for YVA, the first one, the vision I had with our music director was that you know, like at least the climate movement. How the media portrays it is very like – whitewashed veganism… You have to talk like hella like professional and stuff. Some people like to fight the fight the same way it started and I I don’t fee like that’s something that should continue on. And with music, like to be honest not like everyone wants to read a whole-ass article about like the climate movement and stuff like that. ‘Cause even for me like a lot of times I don’t have time and with the music it’s short it’s nice. It’s vibey. You get the message across and you get to like reach people that like probably could not find these like good articles or don’t want to read them.
Are you performing on the song or did you? Did you write this?
Actually, I’m one of the YvA writers and I know Isha you’re on this right?
Hahaha I am.
How yall gonna be coy about that? Like hold up- you just talking about the song all abstract. So y’all are like ya’ll are part of the people who created the song, yes?
I was just gonna say Dulce brought up the first song that we made that I actually wasn’t on, but it was called or it is called “No One is Disposable.” And if you’re listening you should definitely go check that out. We’re on all streaming platforms and there’s also an original music video that I would highly recommend watching. And for me that was so powerful because it was the first time that we had really simplified that language about what I was talking about in the beginning. You know, the fact that this is about the foundation on which we live on. The fact that, like. We’re here because of all of these messed up systems of oppression and that song captured it in such a simple way. “No One is Disposable” like that is why we’re here–because our society views people as disposable. And just like the fact that that was able to come out through that music which is so powerful. And I can’t wait to see that happen again with this next song called, “This is the Time.
For whatever reason, in this moment we are experiencing the crumbling of these foundational systems– not because they’re not functioning as they’re supposed to, but because their function– functioning exactly as they are supposed to and they are unsustainable. Violent systems that were not built to last. Because of that, we have this unique moment to actually do the work that people have been trying to do forever, which is to dismantle these systems and to build something new in its place. And that is why this song is called, “This is the Time”
Yes. Yeah, that was like a phenomenal segueway for my last question, which is what I ask every guest. What do our listeners need to know and what do we need now to have an impact on climate and to take action in these times?
I think that what people need to know is that they literally have the power in their hands, they just need to know how to use it and to create change or just gotta like get up there and just like take action and I feel like you will find your people and you could create change when you like, work with your community.
Yes, the only thing I will add is a lyric from “This is the Time” which I believe that Dulce wrote which is, “We are only out of time when we lose hope.”
That’s a bar. Yeah, please let people know where they can find you and where they can find the song.
And if you wanna go directly to the This is the time campaign website you can go to thisisthetime.org.
[SIGN OFF & CALL-TO-ACTION]
So now for my favorite part of the show, which is where we ask you to take action. we want all of y’all to take action. First, please text “What We Need Now” to 877-877. That’s like a cheat code. It’s the easiest way to do the other things I’m going to ask you to do which are:
- Visit Youth Vs. Apocalypse.org to hear the new song and music video for “This is the Time” co-written by our amazing guest Dulce and Isha along with other Youth vs. Apocalypse organizers.
- Checkout ballotpedia to find out all the information you need about voting in your local election.
- As always, continue to educate yourself on how to show up for your movement and communities, and visit our website greenpeace.org/usa/whatweneednow to learn more about this month’s episode and check out some resources that the podcast team has put together for you.
The Toolkit is really what it’s all about, we’re just trying to get you there. And that’s it for this episode. Thanks for listening and remember, if you want to support, share, subscribe, and leave a review wherever you listen to your podcasts.
That’s all for now, but we’ll see you next time on What We Need Now.