The uninhibited energy of young people has been a boon to many social movements, particularly in the climate movement in the U.S. through the Sunrise Movement. But youth can benefit from mentoring by more experienced veterans of the movements. To provide hands-on instruction that directly guides young people pursuing environmental justice, the Israeli organization Green Course created their School for Environmental Activism in 2018. It has shepherded a couple notable organizational successes, and is a model that can be repeated in other countries.
First a bit about Green Course (מגמה ירוקה), which I have written about in this space before. Founded 22 years ago, it is one of the leading environmental organizations in Israel, a non-governmental non-profit organization. Green Course is a pragmatic coalition-builder, and has led several successful campaigns for environmental policy change. The organization has opposed pipelines and gas drilling, called for protection of coastlines and other nature areas, and organized large marches for climate action.
Sonia Hizi, Director of Development and International Relations, describes the twin goals of the School for Environmental Activism: "to raise awareness about the climate crisis, and at the same time to develop active civil leadership among youth." Their initiative is not a physical school building, but a geographically distributed collection of classes and mentorships. Naturally, they have adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic by moving some activities online. Furthermore, some programs are directed to adults as well as young people.
This past year, the school provided dozens of lectures about activism and the climate crisis. Instructors are environmental activists who have successfully led public campaigns. The values promoted by the program are listed by Hizi as "social engagement, community leadership, critical thinking, and global responsibility for the environment."
In an even more ambitious effort, the school helps selected students take on year-long activist campaigns. According to Hizi, the programs teach a number of skills, including "theoretical and practical tools for community organizing, media and communications, lobbying and government relations, and creative public actions." Through these programs, Green Course wants to give youth "the belief that they can make a difference."
She describes how one of these impressive campaigns helps students in "promoting clean public transportation in their city, including bicycle lanes, more bus lines, etc. The students drafted and sent a letter to the mayor requesting that these issues be addressed. The authors of the letter were invited to attend a meeting with the deputy mayor, the director of the Infrastructure Division, and the landscape architect of the municipality. The officials presented to the students their existing plans to pave new bike lanes and add new bus lines (including on Saturdays). The students in turn also were invited to present their solutions, which included ideas such as road surface changes to cause vehicles to slow down, special signs on the road, and more. The solutions were welcomed by the representatives of the municipality, who assured the students they would take all propositions into consideration."
Hizi mentioned that these students also led a local strike for climate action, as part of the global climate strikes of March 2019.
Projects for young people are often carried out in collaboration with schools or local municipalities. Hizi says that during the most recent school year, they completed three annual programs, totaling ten meetings, and one shorter program. They had to pause some programs due to the pandemic.. This social impact project also provides an important income source for the organization.
The adaptation to online platforms required by COVID19 also presents an opportunity to reach out to new audiences. The organization feels ready to offer online programs in other countries and to develop tailored environmental activism programs that can bring together youth in the US and Israel. For more information, contact Sonia Hizi.