Oh to be young again...


Oh to be young again... image 1When

Oh to be young again…

When I first heard there were regular meetings for the development and negotiation of the next climate change agreement, I pictured in my head … well, I wasn”t sure what to picture in my head. But I figured it would be a lot of “professionals’ running around in suits and talking on cell phones and frantically typing on blackberries. I pictured very formal proceedings and a lot of behind closed door meetings. While some of that is indeed the case, in fact, these negotiations have a lot more “flavor.’

For starters, the process is really quite an open one. While those of us who work with Congress believe our leaders to have a fairly open door approach, we know that a meeting with a member isn”t the norm and that you can”t just waltz into the Capitol Building. The UNFCCC negotiations, however, enable advocates to witness the discussions, to meet regularly with delegations from around the world, and to roam the halls side by side with delegates. It”s impressive and encouraging that representatives of so many different communities are able to be here as a voice for those who cannot be.

And speaking of who is there – another bit of a surprise. Plenty of the participants in the negotiations are the usual suspects: government officials, environmental NGOs, and development NGOs. And there are people from all over the world – this is the UN, after all. But then there are the youth. And amidst all these officials and professionals, the youth bring a fresh perspective and energy to the conversations and efforts here in Bonn to push the international community to tackle climate change. Watching them navigate the crowded conference center reminds us that we, too, once believed that we could change the world – and that we need to believe that again. Every day.

And their actions are outside the box. Sure, over these two weeks there are meetings. There”s drafting of text. And emailing – there”s a lot of emailing. But then there are the other “events.’ There are more ways to influence the negotiations than setting up a meeting. There”s “name and shame.’ An umbrella NGO group issues a daily “Fossil of the Day,’ an award given to countries that perform the worst during that day of negotiations. For instance, the US was awarded the fossil recently for giving the impression that our domestic legislation will provide far more funding for poor countries than is necessarily the case. Let”s just say it was “fuzzy math.’

And then there are tactics that use creativity, irony, and a bit more bluntness than you might see in a formal meeting. One day, a group of youth held a mock negotiation session at which each person wore a paper mask resembling one of the world”s leaders. In essence, the youth held up a mirror to the world”s leaders and said, “this is what you sound and look like.’ No one can hide from the mirror. Another day, members of a grassroots group laid in the grass in formation to create a giant exclamation point with the text: “Yes You Can’ and the slogan of their campaign, tck tck tck, emphasizing the short amount of time leaders have to conclude a climate deal. The took their photo and posted it on the web:

And finally, my personal favorite, virtually every day, the negotiations are quietly observed by a special guest reminding leaders of what we need to accomplish this year. The polar bear. He slouches in the hall – where leaders and advocates and activists walk every day. And his sign reads, “No Coins. It”s Change I Need.’ That change is needed for us all – but most especially for the poorest of the poor.

Each day is a new opportunity.Each day we advocate for action of behalf of the world”s poor. The youth here energize us to push through the 16 hour work days. And the youth push us to go beyond the formal meetings and the gazillion emails – and to look up from our blackberries. We each have our own version of why we do the work we do. And it”s valuable – and critical – to have periodic reminders of our own beginnings. The youth are that reminder – of those days when we felt that the world was far simpler than we feel it is now. When the world was truly about justice – and less about what”s “realistic.’ Robert F. Kennedy is often quoted as having said, “There are those that look at things as they are and ask why. I dream things that never were and say ’˜why not?”’ And the youth continue to do that. They see what”s wrong and how it should be and say, why not? And they put that conviction into action.

Feeling young again...