Youth organizing is a powerful force, and Girls Leadership is proud to have supported the second annual youth-led conference. This year’s conference, Gen Z for Planet A, was developed and run entirely by the Girl Advisory Board (GAB), and featured advocacy training, panel discussions, and expert presentations. Over the course of the half-day event, attendees had the opportunity to attend sessions on addressing local, national, and international climate concerns.
The session opened with the poem “Helicopter Seeds” by youth poet Olivia, and grounded the conference in a reminder that artistic expression is one of many tools at their disposal for inspiring change. Olivia’s writing also explored two key themes that ran through the rest of the conference: acknowledging climate fear and anxiety in order to transform it into action, and the power of using every tool and skill to make a difference, including the power of the arts.
Instructional sessions and interactive components were the foundation of the conference, providing participants with actionable strategies for community organizing, developing expertise, and staying motivated. GAB members shared examples for
setting up SMART goals, provided templates for reaching out to local and state representatives, discussed fundraising strategies, and went over an array of digital tools for creating awareness campaigns. Attendees had the chance to workshop their own ideas after learning exactly how GAB members researched, developed, edited, and promoted local projects, including an educational campaign about how the Inglewood oil field disrupts the local environment and disproportionately affects communities of color.
Intersectionality was a key focus of Gen Z for Planet A, and presenter Maru García, Project Lead for Prospering Backyards, discussed how attendees could build bridges between age groups, communities, and existing activist groups to mobilize for change. García is both a practicing artist and a biotechnology and chemistry expert, and urged listeners to embrace their interests and talents as essentials, not extras, for climate justice and collaboration.
With that advice, GAB members went on to moderate panels with “youth accomplices” Dioganhdih (Dio) Hall, hip-hop artist, seed keeper, and Indigenous advocate, and Wanda Stewart, Executive Director of Common Vision. Direct environmental connection and stewardship were the major focus. “There are front lines everywhere, in all of our communities. So it’s a matter of looking around and connecting to our environment,” Hall answered in the Q&A.
Local action was also a theme in the youth panel, which focused on international environmental justice. GAB introduced youth panelists Annika, Sameeksha, and Mercy from She’s the First for a round table discussion of the big issues. Though they acknowledged the dire situation, they urged each other and the audience to stay committed to doing whatever they could, even if it felt small or didn’t have an immediately measurable impact. “Every small thing is helping,” Annika affirmed. The panel agreed, focusing especially on Gen Z’s ability to harness social media. “We can’t solve the problem if people don’t know there’s a problem. One of the most important things young people can do is raise their voices. Any young person can make a difference by talking about the issue, and not letting it sit,” urged Sameeksha.
Like presenters before them, the panelists acknowledged the very real sense of discouragement or despair that can affect activists. “What motivates me is the fact that there are other young people doing it. I am not running a lone race. There is someone else somewhere running with me. One step at a time will lead us there. There are other people doing what I’m doing, and they share my dream,” said Mercy.
Keynote speaker Tara Houska, a tribal attorney, land defender and climate justice activist, wholeheartedly agreed, citing the influencers and TikTok stars who brought massive attention to the Willow Project, a massive oil drilling project in Alaska. “It’s pretty awesome to watch young folks,” she enthused, reflecting on her experience working on multiple projects and actions to protect the environment over her own career. She emphasized the many roles she has taken on, and encouraged listeners to follow their passions, underscoring earlier parts of the conference that all skills have a use in the fight for environmental justice. “We don’t carry this alone. We pick up and carry this mantle with others.”
Houska reminded conference attendees that community includes the earth itself. “Live with the earth instead of from the earth. That’s deeply powerful, and there’s so much hope in that,” Houska encouraged, echoing Stewart, who affirmed that girls everywhere could deal constructively with the climate crisis. “The right time to panic is never,” she said. “Instead, let’s stay calm and get to work.”