Young People’s Just Transition Project

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What is that community wisdom that teaches us how to stay together in times of hardship? That teaches us to heal and to thrive when we’ve suffered and struggled? How do we share this long-held wisdom with young people, as the breadth of hardship continues to expand?

I’ve heard that we, as a generation, are in a state of economic and ecological precarity. Here we sit, teetering on the edge of compounding crises–climate, economy, housing, food, migration, education, and prisons. And yet, this isn’t new. Some communities have been sitting here for decades, centuries.

Through many long conversations with a mentor of ours, I have just begun to understand that through cycles of immense hardship emerges a rich wisdom and deep knowledge of how to hold community together.

For the past six months, we, in Maypop, have been thinking critically about how to strengthen ties between student organizers and local efforts towards building community power and resiliency. This summer, we want to bring together a small group of deeply committed young people to work intensively on projects that bolster the struggles of Philadelphia communities and transform students’ own sense of organizing. Built on commitments to community autonomy and empowerment, we want to foster transformative work by young people, and transformative moments in young people.

What do we mean by transformative work? This is work that in the face of ecological and economic hardship, builds community health, stability, and power. Transformative work rolls suffering over into community strength. This is work that challenges systems of greed and violence by creating more just forms of energy, food, education, exchange, and self-governance.  This is the type of work that pushes young people to a new threshold of commitment, a threshold where this work is no longer an extra-curricular, but becomes bound to one’s sense of self.

We want to support opportunities for lived experience, where young people begin to say, “This. This is the vital work.”

In embracing a rich historical legacy of transformative summer organizing by young people,  we hope to approach this project with both humility and a commitment to truly deep change. We understand that this summer is merely one stepping stone in the much larger path of just transition, however, we believe it is a crucial moment to bring young people into the movement.

We recognize that three months is a small window of time, and that young people can often be a transient and fleeting group.  On the surface it can be challenging to conceptualize students’ involvement in place-based resiliency work. But we also know that young people are facing crises of education, ecology, and economy. We are inheriting new realities of instability within nearly every aspect of our lives, and these are resiliency skills that must be built across populations.

We approach this work from a position of allyship and deep respect for the work that is in motion in local communities. And, we believe that principled and humble allyship can bring strength to the work of these communities, who have been forced to the margins time and time again.  As we support those who have been in struggle for generations, we too fortify the skills and relations that will help our communities and our generation know how to weather the storm.

Last October, I was able to listen to a powerful panel discussion with Occupy Sandy organizers. They talked about how in the wake of Sandy, when FEMA and other relief organizations were unable to meet the needs of impacted people, community groups were able to pull together the necessary resources and structures to offer meaningful direct aid. During the discussion, one of the organizers was asked a question, that I have been thinking about in the six months since: “If it was one year before the storm and you knew what you know now, what would be doing to prepare? What kind of structures, systems, and relationships would you build? And how do you pull people into your work when they don’t believe the crisis is coming until it hits?”  More simply put, how can we be working proactively, instead of reactively towards the deep challenges of our world? How can we be building to support the communities who have been, for so long, the driving force for change?

How can we be constructing and creating from a place of love and commitment? How do we nurture community wisdom to weather the storm? This summer, we hope to take one step toward bringing young people into the work in ways that transform their sense of self and their commitment to the vital work.

The Project:

In the next few months, we will work with a small group of Philadelphia-area students and community organizations to develop a vision for three-month projects anchored in local community organizing initiatives.

At the beginning of the summer, Maypop organizers and student organizers will come together for a retreat, focused on strengthening relationships, building a shared understanding of the work, and nurturing community. This retreat will start to build a foundation of organizing skills and thorough knowledge of the community projects. Throughout the rest of the summer, these spaces can be a political home for community members and students who are working to build engagement throughout the community.

After the retreat, students will delve into community resiliency projects that are led by community members. Depending on the community organization, these projects could take a number of different forms: food sovereignty, community health, emergency preparedness, equitable exchange, building community leadership, fighting gentrification and displacement, fostering healing spaces, decentralized energy, education reform work, and others.

Over the course of the summer, these young organizers will live, study, share, and explore together. We hope to create a space where questions, frustration, challenges, curiosity, conflict, and joy are welcomed. Through our work, as a community of young organizers and with our Philadelphia partners, we hope to begin strengthening our understandings of community resiliency and collective endurance. We aim to bridge issue silos and fuse organizing traditions. We hope to build our skills and our commitments for the long haul. –Sachie Hopkins-Hayakawa