Strike Force

"If you know everything that is going on, you’re doing it wrong," says Katie Eder, a leader of the global youth-led student climate strike, in an exclusive Q&A

September 20, 2019

2:49 pm

Who was it who once said “Children should be seen, but not heard”?

As adults continue to imperil the planet when it comes to the climate crisis, thankfully there is increasing evidence of children being both seen and vociferously heard.

In fact, the individuals most moving the needle in the climate movement are young people, from Sweden’s Greta Thunberg to the Wijsen sisters of Indonesia.

One of those amazing movers and shakers is Katie Eder, 19, an activist from Wisconsin who is the Executive Director of Future Coalition. [Disclosure: Future Coalition is a recipient of a $100,000 grant from Earth’s Call Fund.]

Future Coalition is a network of more than 30 youth-led organizations, including March For Our Lives, National Youth Rights Association, Our Climate Voices, Zero Hour, and Youth Climate Strike. Most of these organizations were themselves started by a teenager.

Future Coalition is one of many organizations collaborating to piece together the two planned global climate strikes this month — one of which is taking place today, September 20, and the second of which is taking place a week from today, on September 27 — along with other youth-led groups like Fridays For Future, Zero Hour, Earth Uprising, Earth Guardians, and Sunrise Movement, and “adult” organizations like Greenpeace, NRDC, Move On, OXFAM, SEIU, and the Sierra Club.

As you read this, note that climate strikes have already begun in Australia and New Zealand, and other times zones across the world. And Katie has been busy, not only organizing, but also writing an op-ed for the CNN Opinion section.

We caught up with Katie earlier this week to learn more about how one helps coordinate a global effort comprising more than 1,000 strikes in the U.S., and more than 5,000 strikes in 156 countries — and what we need to do in the face of climate-denying government leaders.

Earth’s Call: As of this afternoon, there are over more than 1,000 strikes planned in the U.S. for today, and strikes planned in at least 120 other countries. To what would you attribute the success of this particular effort so far?

Katie Eder: I think the reason that September 20 is going to be so large is that the entire climate movement, both in the U.S. and around the world, has united behind it. From the beginning, we wanted to use the strikes to bring together the energy and the passion of young people with the infrastructure and experience of adults and adult-led organizations. This is really the first time these two pieces of the movement have come together, and our collective power is going to allow the strikes to launch a new era of the climate movement. Today is transformational for our movement. 

Earth’s Call: What is the secret to organizing such a massive, trans-organizational global movement?

Katie: The goal is chaos. My thought is, if you know everything that is going on, you’re doing it wrong. When it comes to social movements, the only way for them to be successful is for them to be as decentralized as possible while still pulling from the same message and vision. You have to trust people both locally and nationally to take ownership of different pieces of the work. When you trust people to take the concept and run with it, that’s when it can truly take off.

Earth’s Call: What is the ultimate metric of success for today’s climate strike?

Katie: I think that it’s not just the numbers of who turns out, but the ability to engage with people who are just getting involved. The strike is meant to be an invitation. This is your chance to get involved with the movement. These “movement moments” that get a lot of press attention, they are amazing and essential, but they’re almost more of a recruitment tool more than anything else. We’re looking at today as the launch of a new era of the climate movement. We might not be able to see the success of this today, but in a few months we’ll be able to say that we inspired this many people to join in the climate revolution.

Earth’s Call: Just so people understand, why is there a second strike on September 27th, one week after today’s? 

Katie: The truth is that when the dates were being decided, there was confusion in coordination on the international level. It was the first effort to bring together international organizations, and various countries agreed on two different dates. Once we realized that, we all agreed to make a week of climate action between the two dates. And I think that has turned out to be a real positive. There will be huge strikes on the 20th to launch the week and huge strikes on the 27th to make it clear our energy is going to continue. 

Earth’s Call: What do you think has motivated this particular generation of young people to be so active in the climate movement? 

Katie: We are beginning to see and understand how the climate crisis is and will continue to impact ourselves and those around us. We can see the effects now and we know how much worse it can get. And young people look at the crisis and think, “This is a solvable problem, this is something we can fix.” And no one else is fixing it, so it’s up to us. We have to take action and take action now.

Earth’s Call: You’ve been socially active since you were at least 13 years old, when you started Kids Tales, a nonprofit writing workshop for kids. What was it that first inspired you to get into activism?

Katie: I think there are two things. I grew up very involved in the Jewish community in Milwaukee. In Judaism, there’s a Jewish phrase “tikkun olam,” or “repair the world.” And I think, even before knowing that phrase and what it meant, that value was part of how I was raised. It’s something I have to do, and that we all have to do.

The first time I got involved in organizing/activism was actually in 4th grade. Our gym teacher made boys and girls play separately, and I was sick of it and convinced my class to stage a sit in. And that was the first time I saw the impact of what pushing back against the status quo could do, and sparked a feeling that there were other things I can do.

Earth’s Call: You’ve now been an activist for at least six years. What have you learned along the way? Are there certain mistakes you have made that have helped teach valuable lessons?

Katie: One of the things that I’ve learned is that nothing can be done by any one person. Teams are necessary to make progress. Our role at Future Coalition is to offer collaboration for other groups doing the work. No one person has the skills or the knowledge to make massive change on their own. But a few people or organizations coming together have unthinkable power. It’s also more fun to work with others!

Earth’s Call: What has been one of the biggest surprises for you since you launched the Future Coalition?

Katie: I think a surprise — it almost makes sense but you don’t think about it until you think about it — is that young people in the organizing space face such similar challenges. When we first started Future Coalition, we did about two months of intensive interviews with young people from across the country to really understand the range of experiences of youth activists. We found tons of similarities  from funding a giant sense of isolation from their peers around them. It’s so meaningful to bring people together because there are such similar challenges that they’ve faced and people can find important community in that.

Earth’s Call: What do we need to tell skeptical people to motivate them to come onboard? Some people are turned off by doom-and-gloom tactics, other people don’t want to be inconvenienced. It might be frustrating to you and the movement, but what have you found are the best ways to reach those people?

Katie: Going into those conversations with truly an open mind. There’s so much talk in this country that is framed in an “Us vs. Them” dialogue. I think there’s a reason you believe what you believe, and I want to hear your experiences. And even if I can’t convince you of something, then we at least have common ground of respect, And once you have common ground, there’s so much better opportunities to come to an agreement.

Earth’s Call: What can adults learn from young people when it comes to activism, and getting a message out?

Katie: What is so special about young people and their abilities to organize is that we see solutions before we see obstacles, and have the ability to dive right in. That can be both a strength and a weakness. Adults have much more of a linear approach, that works out other details before getting started. Whereas young people are more likely to dive right in. I think young people act as if they have nothing to lose. There are benefits to trying to maintain that spirit — it can really be more beneficial, not being so afraid of failure.

Earth’s Call: What is the plan if Trump wins reelection?

Katie: We keep going. We don’t have another choice. What we do and how we do it changes, but we keep going. If we don’t, then what? There is no choice — we keep going.

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