2020 has been a hard year for all of us. So many of our well made plans were shattered by the coronavirus pandemic, and we’ve faced isolation, grief and sadness on a near daily basis. Despite this, I have found lots of reasons to feel hope this year.
Young people have adapted in incredible ways to our new situation, finding opportunities for growth, innovation and resilience. Work done this year has helped to build a stronger youth climate movement, with a greater focus on care, anti-oppression and links between struggles.
We started the year with great plans for skilling up for the UN Climate Talks COP26 in Glasgow. Early in the year we ran trainings in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, surveyed our network to identify the skills we wanted to work on, and had almost finished preparations for our spring skillshare when lockdown hit.
Coronavirus, cancellations and COP postponement created chaos, but not for too long.
We regrouped and quickly redesigned our April skillshare to an online format, focussing on the needs of our new context. Sessions were planned on power and privilege in online spaces, digital activism, and more. We reached out to our global network and brought together young people from across the world, from Scotland to Germany to Croatia and even as far as Malaysia and the US. The online skillshare did everything we hoped it would, providing connection, solidarity and inspiration at a crucial time.
Our steering group quickly realised we needed to think more about online accessibility and inclusion now we were operating in a completely digital world. We formed an Access and Inclusion Working Group, who have worked to improve our social media and online events, create a digital access fund, create online accessibility guides and more.
It’s been amazing to see how young activists across our network have adapted to socially distanced and online actions and rallies – keeping everyone safe whilst still making sure the climate crisis doesn’t get sidelined.
Just and green recovery
Recovery from the coronavirus pandemic presents a unique opportunity to build back better for a Scotland that works for people and the planet. We joined the Just and Green Recovery campaign, helping to highlight the voices of young people in a coalition of over 80 groups.
In July we did banner drop actions across Scotland in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Oban to help pile the pressure on the Scottish Government recovery plans and emphasise how much this matters to young people. In particular we emphasised the need for good green jobs and a future without fossil fuels, urging the Scottish Government to end oil and gas subsidies and invest in a just transition.
Building an anti-oppressive climate movement
This year the brutal inequalities of our society have been laid bare, and we can see more clearly than ever how the roots of these are intertwined with the roots of the climate crisis. We always try to put these intersections at the forefront of our climate justice work, this year more than ever.
After the murder of George Floyd and the international Black Lives Matter protests, like many others we paused to reflect on what meaningful work we were doing on racial justice at YFoES. We formed an Anti-Racism Working Group, and realised our initial focus needed to be on learning from others.
We had some amazing workshops with a focus on the racist roots of the climate crisis, colonialism, and the justice systice, exploring the links between policing, abolition and climate justice. Resist + Renew joined us to talk about anti-racist environmental activism, Simmone Ahiaku held a session on environmental racism, and Kesley of Cradle Community and Community Action on Prison Expansion ran workshops on environmental justice and a world without prisons, and climate justice and prison expansion.
We have tried to use our platforms better to amplify voices of colour and are now working on continuing our learning within the network and the wider youth climate movement and on better embedding anti-racism into our work.
Earlier in the year we had begun work on the links between climate justice and queer liberation. We linked up with LGBT Youth Scotland and Green Anti-Capitalist Front for workshops, published a blog on climate change as an LGBT+ issue, and contributed to the Divest Pride campaign (sign the petition!). At a time when trans rights are being threatened, we worked to make it clear that we stand in solidarity with our trans and non-binary siblings and always will.
In October we ran an online series of skillsharing workshops jointly with People & Planet, the UK student campaigning network. After reflecting on the events of the year, we decided to theme these sessions around building an anti-oppressive climate movement.
We focussed on making links between different struggles and helping to develop the skills and knowledge we need to create a stronger, more inclusive movement. We had sessions on environmental racism, climate justice and prison abolition, activism and neurodiversity, inclusive online facilitation and more.
Although it was sad not to have our usual weekends away this year, our online sessions reached literally hundreds more people than we could have accommodated at a normal skillshare!
Building the network
October also saw our AGM and the election of a brand new steering group. For the first time in YFoES history we elected a full steering group of 12 people, representing the width and breadth of the country from Glasgow to Orkney and Aberdeenshire to Dunblane! We created new steering group positions focussing on just transition, anti-oppression and communications to keep improving our work in these areas. We now have five active working groups and several more project areas we are working on.
This year we launched our podcast: Decent Jobs on a Living Planet which is available on all major platforms. It aims to explore the concept of just transition from a Scottish perspective, and is going strong with 8 episodes so far. We created another skillshare zine in April, one on activists in lockdown, and have another one coming soon!
We’ve already started thinking about the year ahead, with the Scottish elections, the rescheduled COP26, and more. No one can know for sure what the next year will look like, but hopefully 2021 brings some better times for us all. We know no matter what, we’ve got the skills and the solidarity to keep going.
Young Friends of the Earth Scotland is a grassroots network of young people aged 16-30 from across Scotland working collectively for social and environmental justice. Find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. If you’re interested in getting involved in YFoES, email email@example.com.