Young Friends Worldwide Organize for Climate Justice

Image courtesy of FWCC.

Throughout 2020, young Friends around the world and across the Quaker branches have been meeting online to consider climate action, peace, and justice. Unable to meet in person, these Friends formed a global network and organized a series of five online workshops in which they could share their stories, experiences, and thoughts.

In February 2020, Friends of all ages worldwide gathered for an online sustainability conference organized by Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) to ask “How does God call us to act toward a more sustainable world?” This conference led Friends to recognize the need to focus more energy on supporting young Friends worldwide in their climate action work. This was initially envisaged as offering physical space in meetinghouses and churches for young Quakers to gather; at the time, many young Friends were involved in organizing school strikes for the climate. However due to COVID-19 it soon became impossible for Friends to gather in physical spaces, so the concept was adapted and a virtual space was created instead.

Supported by FWCC, a group of young Friends formed a network called Young Friends Worldwide for Climate Action, Peace, and Justice. They initiated and designed a series of online workshops by young Quakers, for young Quakers across the world. The workshop series provided young Friends aged 16–35 with the space to meet one another and learn from one another, to build connections and understand different experiences better. For many young Quakers, this was the first time they had had such an opportunity.

The global Planning Committee for the network is made up of young Friends from Burundi, Uganda, Aotearoa/New Zealand, the UK, the Netherlands, and the United States, covering all four FWCC Sections. Between April and October 2020 they met regularly via Zoom, overcoming disparate time zones and unreliable Internet connections. It was a challenge to find ways to explore climate action with Friends around the world and develop a shared language that worked for everyone, given the very different ways we all experience and understand climate action. But they navigated this admirably, united by their shared faith and a desire to bring together young Quakers who are passionate about climate action, peace, and justice.

Throughout the ten-week series, workshop speakers shared about how various Quaker testimonies spoke to them in relation to climate action and justice. Screengrabs courtesy of video excerpts recorded by the event organizers, available on YouTube.
Left to right: Detmer Kremer (Netherlands, EMES); Anya Nanning Ramamurthy (UK, EMES); Young Izere (Burundi, Africa Section); Holly Spencer (France, EMES); Ndahimana Epa (Uganda, Africa Section); Zenaida Peterson (United States, Section of the Americas); Clara Summers (United States, Section of the Americas). Country listed is speaker’s home country, then the affiliated FWCC Section.

Over 160 participants joined the workshops from all four sections of FWCC with 43 percent joining from the Africa Section, 26 percent from the Europe and Middle East Section (EMES), 15 percent from Section of the Americas, and 12 percent from the Asia–West Pacific Section (with 4 percent unknown). We had good representation at every workshop from each of the FWCC sections. This was one of the greatest strengths of the series—if we are to work together as a global community to create a more peaceful, environmentally friendly, and just world, we must have worldwide representation, including those on the frontlines of climate justice and action.

Although the primary language spoken by participants was English, translation was offered at several of the workshops for French and Spanish speakers. For the young Friends building the network, this was important to ensure voices from all around the world could be heard and could contribute.

The 90-minute workshops would often begin with music or prayer being shared from different parts of the world before two speakers would share how the Quaker testimonies of truth, equality, peace, simplicity, or community spoke to them in relation to climate action, peace, and justice. The group would then reflect on the workshop theme in small breakout rooms, before writing a statement for each session.

The five statements that came out of the workshops powerfully and clearly articulate the group’s exploration of climate action, peace, and justice in relation to the Quaker testimonies. The following extracts give a sense of the issues that were covered and the reflections of the group:

  • Truth: “There is a need to listen to those facing the brunt of climate breakdown, whose truths are often not heard and whose truths others could learn from. This connects to truths about power and privilege in the world.”
  • Equality: “The earth has more than enough resources for all of its inhabitants, yet marginalized communities lack resources whereas others have access to excess. . . . Even though Friends believe that all people are equal in the eyes of God, in reality the world is largely unequal. Climate change exacerbates inequality.”
  • Peace: “The most important thing to remember when looking at peace, justice, and climate, is that all are connected and upheld by systems of government that are unjust. Every decision that we make has a direct impact on future generations and on our planet . . . action is all we need and this begins small, and by reaching out to those in need.”
  • Simplicity: “Global consumerism, influenced by a capitalist mindset, is the root cause of the current global climate crisis. Our economic system is harmful and complicated because we live harmful and complicated lives. To address climate change we must live simpler lives . . . and this in turn can be a powerful counterbalance to our overconsuming societies.”
  • Community: “We are the young generation of Quakers, led by our faith, and together we want to know how to move forward. We come from different places and hold different understandings of our faith, but we share that we are all young. This means we have lived our entire lives under the threat of climate change, and have waited for older generations to fix it. It is our hope that we will (a) commit to creating a growing network of young Quakers worldwide, who share our passion for climate action, justice, and peace; (b) find a way to share our reflections with the rest of the global Quaker community.”

The full summary statements from each of the workshops are available on the FWCC website, along with video clips from the series: fwcc.world/young-friends-worldwide-for-climate-action-peace-and-justice.  

I found the final workshop on community particularly moving. The reality that young Friends today have never known a world without the threat of climate breakdown is distressing. But what this group has created and achieved together in just a few short months is heartening. And this is just the start. For now, the message for the wider Quaker community seems to be “continue to listen and hold this space,” to support young Friends around the world who are working for climate action.

This online series was just the beginning of this young Quaker work for climate action. The FWCC World Office is continuing to work closely with the Planning Committee to explore how we can further support young Friends around the world who are passionate about climate action, peace, and justice. We are seeking new ways to collaborate and act together; young Friends want to have an opportunity to build on this fellowship and continue to know each other, but there is also an urgency for more action.

Susanna Mattingly

Susanna Mattingly runs the sustainability program for Friends World Committee for Consultation at the World Office in London, UK. To keep up to date with FWCC’s sustainability work, email [email protected].

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