Why I Marched: Reflections of a #YouthvGov Plaintiff in D.C.

On the 100th day of the Trump administration, the People’s Climate March filled the National Mall with over 200,000 people in a stunning affirmation of life, resistance, and the widespread grassroots support for a just and renewable economy.

I marched among them, along with my co-plaintiffs in the federal climate case Juliana v United States or as we’re known in the social media sphere, “#YouthvGov”. For the past year and a half, we’ve been suing the U.S. government seeking a court ruling ordering our political leaders to do their job, stop threatening youths’ futures, and enact a national climate recovery plan based on scientific recommendations. As young people who come from all four corners of the United States, traveling to Washington D.C. gave us a chance to bring our message and our stories of how we are impacted by climate change directly to the current administration’s doorstep.

The Trump administration’s irresponsible and reckless promotion of fossil fuels constitutes perhaps one of the greatest threats to my generation's’ survival. But I believe that sometimes the best way to beat a dangerous and manipulative regime such as Trump’s is to focus on building better and more inspiring alternatives for everyone, every day and with all the tools at our disposal. So we didn’t travel to D.C. just to march and chant in reaction to the Trump agenda, but rather to speak up as young people who already participate in nearly every type of civic engagement. As plaintiffs in a lawsuit grounded in century-old legal doctrines, we bring goals and a clear intent to the game. These include our requests for a plan that would reduce the atmospheric level of carbon dioxide to 350 ppm by the year 2100 and for legal recognition of how climate change deprives us of our rights to life, liberty, and property.

I believe this is the reason that our lawsuit has become such a source of hope and encouragement to so many. We are powerful because this wasn’t about Trump to begin with and it still isn’t.

It’s about establishing a legal right to a safe climate and atmosphere.

It’s about recognizing that the public trust doctrine is a legal responsibility of any government towards its citizens.

It’s about respecting the constitutional and human rights of an entire generation of human beings and standing up for the future of our youth and of our country.

And it’s about bringing climate science into the courts in a way which has never really been done before.

Being in D.C. gave us an opportunity to bring this message to a much wider audience and to build and deepen new connections and relationships. For the first time, our lawsuit had the full backing of high-level political representatives in the form of four brave Senators who stood and spoke in support of us on the steps of the Supreme Court two days before the march. I am happy to say that Sen. Merkley and Sen. Wyden, both from my home state of Oregon, were present along with Sen. Markey from Massachusetts and Sen. Whitehouse of Rhode Island. I hope that meeting us and hearing our stories can encourage these political leaders to shift their support away from fracked gas infrastructure in their home states, like the proposed Jordan Cove project and Pacific Connector pipeline in Oregon.

Among many beautiful encounters in D.C., I had the privilege to meet Jean-Michel Cousteau, a world-renowned filmmaker and conservationist and the son of the great ocean explorer Jacque Cousteau, and talk with him about our lawsuit and learn about his life’s work to safeguard our oceans. My fellow plaintiffs got to briefly meet climate leaders such as Al Gore and celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio who have used their platforms to elevate the voices of those who are most affected and least heard. And perhaps most importantly, we met and supported every-day individuals who, at Standing Rock and in other struggles, dedicate their lives to a vision of a better and more just world and have become the leaders and voices of a movement that is truly powered by the people.

These connections are important because the climate crisis is the challenge of our century. We young people can put our government and the fossil fuel industries on trial and force them to take responsibility for their actions but in order to truly enact effective global solutions we are going to need everyone to stand alongside us. We need leaders of faith communities to speak from their hearts about the moral imperative to preserve a stable climate and livable environment; we need to listen to and empower marginalized communities on the frontlines; we need journalists to be truth-tellers instead of panderers; we need innovators and engineers to implement renewable solutions; in short, we need visionaries of every creed, of every color, and of every age.

In this way, demonstrations like the People’s Climate March and the March for Science are more than simply a show of resistance or a way to make our voices heard. When we unite and march together as one, we are creating a new culture and showing the world what we value. Every sign we make, every chant we shout, every action we take, creates a new reality that impacts thousands of people around the world for better or worse. We must stand up to defend decency, to defend compassion, to defend wild places and animals, and all the fragile and beautiful things that give our world a meaning beyond dollar signs. Our children and grandchildren demand no less of us.

In this light, it was a blessing to march alongside people who are actively creating this future, from elders and generational leaders to passionate, aware young people from all over the country. And, as always, it was an honor to stand shoulder to shoulder with my co-plaintiffs, those who were in D.C. and those who marched with us in spirit or in one of the hundreds of sister marches around the country. From the most inspiring speech to the smallest smile or joke, they remind me that we have a future, that we will stand for life and for water, and that we will always have each other.

They remind me that a movement is only as strong as the people who make it up— and that that is what gives me hope for our future.

- Jacob Lebel is a 20yo #youthvgov plaintiff from Roseburg, Oregon

Morgan Curtis