The View From Inside: status quo squabbles or a participatory politics?

This is the first in a series of posts that Kelly, who’s with SCGC for the summer, will be writing about her experience as a young person engaging with climate change in Simcoe County.

ATTN: Young People of Simcoe County!

Let’s cut right to it – now that the pandemic is beginning to come to a close, now is the time to jump into action and demand the world we want. Covid-19 put a lot of things on hold, put a lot of us into limbo. Now is when we plan. Now is when we act. Now is when our desire and need for change come into bloom – with the Earth lending us the energy of summer to do it!

I’ve been concerned about environmental problems my whole life, but only in the past couple of years have I really learned anything of substance – schools, media, and most people I know don’t treat this as the emergency it is. Maybe you can relate.

Most of what I know came from university or social media, when public discourse began to change, thanks to activism like the Youth Climate Marches and Fridays For Future, The Sunrise Movement, and all of the grassroots groups and Indigenous Land and Water protectors. And thanks to young people in particular – to you who can see the future that we need and the path to get there. I’m starting this in my 20’s – that means that most of you already have way more experience with climate action. Now my goal is to support you and other young people in your activism.

Over the coming weeks, I’m going to reflect on my experience of engaging with climate action from inside my home instead of out in public space because of Covid-19, and from inside the local advocacy scene as a young person just getting involved.

My view from inside.

I’m privileged enough to be educated and to be in a position to help out at SCGC this summer (and they’re getting serious about making a space for youth). I can only speak from my own experience as a white settler resident of Barrie, which does not include so many lived experiences of young people across Simcoe County. What I express here are my own thoughts, and are intended as entry-points for discussion (that’s your hint to engage and follow us on social media!).

Access

To be sure, there are opportunities. If you look hard enough and do enough networking, there are several ways to get involved. But there are barriers. There are barriers this year because there are no in-person actions to show up to and less calls for volunteers. But it can be hard to get involved at the local level anyway. Organizations are small, networks are tight. If you’re short on time, confidence, vocabulary or privilege, it’s hard to break into this (I myself have always been on the quiet side, so reaching out & showing up was a barrier for me).

It doesn’t help that a lot of info (for me at least) on climate action comes from national or international organizations, from the States, or are concentrated on the GTA. There are campaigns, news pieces and agenda items, but how can we even learn about these and how they fit into what we know of climate action? We need the technical stuff translated into clear terms that tell us what the actual impact on people and the community is so that we have the choice to act on it. Yes, climate action at the local level inevitably involves getting to know the nitty gritty, but why is the nitty gritty so exclusive? That’s a rhetorical question of course, since our municipalities aren’t exactly participatory democracies. It’s a lot of ‘inside baseball’.

Want to get involved? We’re launching our Youth Vision for Simcoe County project this summer – follow us on social media for how you can help build the future we need.

A Disconnect

I like to think I have a good understanding of the crises that we’re facing – climate, economic, social – and of the climate justice needed to address the root causes that these crises share. But translating this into the details of the local context is not easy. To me, it feels like it’s all established community members with established relationships to local politics – not to mention the private companies with major sway over politicians.

Sure, cities always want feedback, we can watch council meetings, there are big campaigns for the big things, and news stories about various issues. But there’s a reason that politics happens in meetings (even if they stream it on Youtube), through contracts and technical reports and hidden in bureaucracy.

It means that the public has to jump through a lot of hoops to participate in democracy. Status quo politics is designed to pit Parties against each other with paid advertising and showy debates, then we go vote for who made the least mistakes to go make decisions for us.

There’s a disconnect between climate justice discourse and formal politics (at all levels of government). In my experience, this really turns off young people from getting involved. Status quo formal politics just isn’t doing it anymore. Partisanship, elections and council meetings are not satisfying our need for more democracy. We want real participation and real community – not status quo squabbling and debating false dichotomies. We want a participatory politics where real change comes from the bottom-up and we have champions with the courage to acknowledge the scale of this emergency and the scale of action needed to prepare for it.

Young people are the imagination, the people power and the hope to make these changes. We haven’t spent a lifetime being told that there’s only one way to do things; we haven’t been taught to put ‘The Economy’ above the people and planet (in fact, we know that the economy should be a system to help us live better, not an alter to throw ourselves on).

Once we can safely gather in the streets, and take up public space for the common good, we need to be putting all the pressure on local politicians to do what’s necessary – not let them keep arguing with each other about excuses why they can’t reach the low-bar that was set for them in a different era.

Kelly, signing off. 

P.S – I think of these blog posts as an ongoing discussion. You can share your comments here, on social media, or get in touch with me at kelly@simcoecountygreenbelt.ca. Otherwise, I’m just typing into the void.

Kelly Gingrich

Kelly Gingrich

SCGC Youth Engagement Lead

How Can You Get Involved?

  1. Connect with Kelly by clicking on her photo or name, above, on on the email address, just above her photo.
  2. Follow the Simcoe County Environmental Youth Alliance (SCEYA) on social media, and connect with them, too, if you’d like to learn more about how you can support youth action to address climate change and help ensure a healthy environment.
  3. Sign up for our newsletter!

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