April 1, 2016

Organizing at the Intersections in Minnesota

By Kendra Roedl, Minneapolis

It was at Power Shift 2013 that I first felt a strong, noticeable call to action as an activist and organizer. As a sophomore in high school, I attended as a member of my school’s environmental club, where I had been taking on more responsibility for projects like improving the recycling system in our cafeteria and getting more people to compost.

824 Minnesota youth and students gather at the beginning of the MN Youth Forward summit


I saw those issues as important steps for the health of our environment, but it wasn’t until I returned to Minneapolis from Pittsburgh in the fall of 2013 that I realized the impact that threats to our environment have on our health as people. I also began to understand how some people, especially people of color and low-income communities, are hit much worse by the environmental impacts that my school’s club was working on--and that in addition, how those same are adversely impacted by many other forms of injustice and unfairness every day. Power Shift was where I learned what oppression is, and it was the first time I had ever heard the word “intersectionality”.

Flash forward two and a half years later, and I’m in a room with about two dozen other young organizers from around the state working on environmental, racial, and economic justice issues at the Minnesota #SpringForward Summit.

I’ll back up again. After Power Shift 2013 I became involved with the Youth Environmental Activists of MN (YEA!MN), a part of Climate Generation, after the president of the Green Team at my school prompted me to. She was part of the group, and many of the other members were the same folks I attended Power Shift with. We all came back with the understanding that as kids who call themselves environmentalists, we need to start seeing this issues with a multi-issue, intersectional lens, and encourage other environmentalists to do so as well.

This was also a shared understanding at the #SpringForward summit a few weeks ago. In the afternoon we split into breakout groups with the focus on either racial, economic, or environmental justice--but it was made clear that these aren’t stand alone issues, and we were encouraged to open dialogue on the overlaps between all of those struggles during each breakout.

At the session focused on economic justice, we talked about--for example--the prison industrial complex and a low-income neighborhood in Minneapolis, which is home to a high percentage of people of color and is forced to deal with a disproportionate rate of toxic facilities nearby.825 Minnesota youth at the State House for a lobby day on the Clean Power Plan, shortly after the Youth Forward summit

The #SpringForward summit only lasted a day, but the conversations did not end there. In fact, I saw many of the same people just a couple days later at the State Capitol. YEA!MN helped plan a lobby day, where young people came out to tell our legislators we need to implement the EPA’s Clean Power Plan in a way that is racially and economically just. Guided by the conversations from the summit a few days prior, it felt like a success. And we saw a large turnout from high school and college students, all of whom I’m looking forward to connect with again!