These are the words of Ocean Robbins who began his activism at the age of seven by organizing a peace rally in his elementary school. His father, John Robbins, Diet For A New America author and environmental activist, taught him well. In 1990, at the age of sixteen, Ocean created Youth for Environmental Sanity (YES) that he now runs with his wife, Michele, another early activist who as a teen spent three months in Soviet Russia with Volunteers for Peace.
YES! informs, inspires and empowers young people to join forces for social justice and environmental sanity through thousands of workshops, school assemblies and retreats. Supported by a board made up of older activists, YES! has inspired kids in forty-five nations to get involved: lobbying for organic school lunches, organizing gang truces, getting rid of corrupt, racist mayors and starting responsible businesses.
Ocean and Michele have a vision of establishing an institute for social change where young leaders would come away with the support and skills to be able to successfully dedicate their lives to building a better world. "That's years down the road," says Ocean, "and in the meanwhile, we want to hold YOUTH JAMS (which are community building events for leading young social changemakers) all over the world."
The World Youth Jams bring together diverse groups of young people, under age thirty, who are leaders working for a thriving, just and sustainable way of life for all. "Participants share their struggles, their commitments, their knowledge and their dreams. They network, build community, and build networks of support to sustain them afterwards. The week is about sharing from a place of truth, challenging each other to grow as activists and social change leaders, and seeing how all of our different areas of focus interconnect. Some Youth Jams are global (the World Youth Jam has participants from twenty nations), some are regional (we have a Youth Jam USA, an African Jam, and a Latin American Jam this year). The chance to help organize and facilitate Youth Jams is an expression of the highest commitments I carry for my life. Through these events, I see so clearly how the issues and solutions interconnect. And through Youth Jams, the activists who work on them are also getting connected.
In Robbins's presentation When Hope Takes A Stand he speaks about the connections between the movements for social justice, human rights, peace and environmental sanity. Robbins explains: "I used to think of the environment as trees and blue sky. Then I learned that for some people, the environment is gangs and concrete. All the issues that we face are connected. Worldwide, ecosystems are being destroyed, and indigenous peoples are losing their homelands and their entire way of life. Three out of every five African-Americans and Latinos in the US lives in a community with a toxic waste site. As long as pollution is being produced, it's going to go somewhere, and as long as there are marginalized communities where land is cheaper and the people don't have the time or the money to fight back, polluters will have a place to deposit toxins. As long as people and the planet are being exploited, and billions of dollars are being made precisely because laborers and the environment are being abused and used up, there will be children going hungry and ecological destruction. As long as war and violence are in our hearts and our streets as well as in our nations, as long as corporate greed and unsustainable consumption are at the forefront of our economies, no child will be born into a truly safe, peaceful or loving world."
Most of Europe is taking some positive actions, and even Canada is significantly ahead of the US. Germany and Japan use half the per capita energy we do. In the Netherlands, gasoline costs about $6 per gallon, and as a result most cars get 40-50 MPG, or more. The Netherlands is probably the most committed to sustainability of any government on Earth, and the population (as well as industry) seems quite behind it. They have adopted "Green Planning" over there to try to bring government, industry and the nonprofit sector together as a team in search of ways to become sustainable, non-polluting, and profitable. The thing is, it's harder to move forward when the world's biggest industrial power, the United States, opposes environmental initiatives in almost every case."
Robbins has worked with kids from many different countries and cultures. He sees a common thread that connects them, and how they are reshaping the world. He offers this advice to other kids that want to get involved:
The common thread is that instead of being victims of problems they didn't create, the people we work with are looking at what they can do to become active participants in the transformation of our world. They work in a huge range of areas, from social justice to human rights to pregnancy prevention to ecology. But they care about people and the planet, and their lives are given over to the prayer that they might be of service to the vital work of our times. And they know how to have fun and celebrate the beauty of people and the planet. There are numerous links in the resource section of the YESWORLD.org web site that can help kids get involved."
What Kids Can Do
- is a national nonprofit organization that documents the value of young people working with teachers and other adults on projects that combine powerful learning with public purpose for an audience of educators, policy makers, journalists and students.
- works to connect people, organizations and resources to help build a world where all people can live free and dignified lives.
- leads a global movement of people from all walks of life who are taking concrete steps to promote healthy and life-sustaining food choices.