International Youth Day: Sea Youth Rise Up Makes Waves At Capitol Hill Ocean Week
Written by: Laura Johnson, Youth Program Supervisor, The Ocean Project
Throughout the last century, youth have driven transformative change, leading groundbreaking movements and reshaping past norms. As global communities continue to experience the effects of climate degradation, young leaders are demanding unprecedented change, with greater urgency than ever before.
- MJ, 17, student delegate from Boston, MA
After years of persistent efforts, youth inclusion in high-level decision-making is improving- an encouraging development. Harnessing the power of youth for a sustainable future is not only strategic, but morally imperative. As changemakers, they inspire and innovate. However, true impact requires genuine listening and recognition at the table.
- Alejandro, 15, student delegate from Miami, FL
Since 2016, Sea Youth Rise Up, a collaborative effort facilitated by The Ocean Project in partnership with Big Blue & You, and for the first time this year EarthEcho International, creates catalysts for change. The program provides a platform for youth to express their ideas and magnify their environmental advocacy efforts, connect with peers and conservation leaders, and engage with government officials to address ocean policy during Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW), World Ocean Day, and beyond. After a virtual hiatus due to Covid, 2023 marked an in-person return, bringing 10 exceptional leaders to Washington, DC for CHOW. Special recognition to the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation for their longtime support of youth engagement and leadership, through Sea Youth Rise Up and beyond.
- Lilu, 18, student delegate from Boston, MA
Student delegates participated in Hill Day, holding numerous meetings with their representatives’ offices. Some had reservations about being taken seriously due to their age in high-level discussions, unsure if their voices would truly count. Growing up amidst politically turbulent times, their caution entering these talks was absolutely reasonable. During Hill Day, interactions with staffers varied. While some meetings were productive, others left students with mixed sentiments.
- Kyra, 19, student delegate from Savannah, GA
Following Hill Day, Sea Youth Rise Up was graciously invited to discuss the role of youth in conservation policy with J.R Littlejohn, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, at the Department of State. The realization that a highly influential figure in the Federal Government valued the role of young people so personally, was profound. Her enthusiasm and genuine appreciation for student perspectives and questions significantly uplifted the delegation’s spirits, and infused optimism into the delegation as they approached their next big meeting.
- Myra, 17, student delegate from Berkeley, CA
On World Ocean Day, the White House released a notice seeking public input for the first-ever Ocean Justice Strategy. Sea Youth Rise Up was invited by the Council of Environmental Quality to discuss this strategy. The delegation buzzed with excitement, as this meeting demonstrated national leaders’ attention to youth concerns and their commitment to including youth voices. During the meeting, White House staff earnestly valued student’s presence and opinions, both noting and celebrating their input.
- Katherine, 20, student delegate from Sioux Falls, SD
At the heart of International Youth Day is celebrating the potential of youth as global partners. Their collective political will is an untapped resource. Collaborating across generations is crucial for a brighter future. Programs like Sea Youth Rise Up and CHOW are actively building a more united world by celebrating diverse perspectives. This celebration is more than commemorative; it’s a call to action. It emphasizes how youth shape our future through unwavering dedication and innovative thinking.
- Armon, 23, student delegate from Corpus Christi, TX
Sea Youth Rise Up delegates had a fantastic experience at CHOW, and appreciated the strong emphasis on the ocean-climate connection that tied the panels together. Notably, two student delegates, Armon Alex and Katherine Escalante, added their voices to CHOW directly. Armon kicked things off during the “Ocean X Climate” plenary session with opening remarks highlighting youth’s role in conservation, while Katherine was the youngest speaker on the “Margaret Davidson Emerging Leaders Roundtable: Climate Innovations” panel, marking the conference’s closure.
CHOW demonstrates how bigger organizations can include youth perspectives in their initiatives. Authentic engagement begins with genuinely addressing young voices and concerns, avoiding superficial listening. Meaningful intergenerational collaboration must steer clear of tokenism; Youth seeking to contribute authentically and independently to the movement should never be propped up as mere mouthpieces for adult agendas.
The significance of youth representation cannot be understated. The infusion of young perspectives brings freshness and dynamism to the conversation, igniting enthusiasm between generations. This serves as a powerful catalyst for positive change. To sustain this momentum, building upon CHOW’s youth engagement model, organizations can establish platforms and support for initiatives by and for youth, create meaningful collaboration through youth advisory boards, implement mentorship programs, and more. Ultimately, cultivating mutual respect, open dialogue, and intergenerational equality empowers young leaders to create impactful and lasting change, securing a future driven by their transformative voices.