Dear Sage –
Welcome, voter! And Happy 18th birthday.
Because of what happened on July 5, 1971 (when I was 21), when the voting age was lowered to 18, you are getting a 3-year head start on me for being a fully enfranchised American. The context for me was this:
“Leading up to that period, the demand had grown that young people be given the opportunity to vote. Tens of thousands of young Americans were drafted into the military for the Vietnam War, and the Korean and other wars before that, when they turned 18. Yet, because they were unenfranchised, they had no say whatsoever in making the policies that determined whether the nation – and their own selves – would be involved in a bloody war overseas or not.”
President Nixon had not supported the 26th Amendment that lowered the voting age nationwide to 18, was forced by public opinion to bring on new voters, but nonetheless said this when signing the amendment:
“As I meet with this group today, I sense that we can have confidence that America’s new voters, America’s young generation, will provide what America needs as we approach our 200th birthday, not just strength and not just wealth but the ‘Spirit of ’76’ a spirit of moral courage, a spirit of high idealism in which we believe in the American dream, but in which we realize that the American dream can never be fulfilled until every American has an equal chance to fulfill it in their own life.”
Now comes your 18th birthday when you will be called upon to identify political leaders (maybe become one yourself after you complete your education) and support those who will provide what America needs. As you know that means addressing many issues of racism, mass incarceration, homophobia and equal rights for LGBT+ people, equal rights for women, immigration, militarism, war and peace, the elimination of nuclear weapons, affordable healthcare for all, sensible gun control, ending violence in our cities, protecting ourselves from predatory drug companies who bear much of the blame for the opioid crisis that had killed many thousands, getting corporate and dark money out of politics, protecting our air and water from pollution and contamination, and of course voting out Donald Trump in 2020. This is not even a complete list of what an enfranchised Sage Ella will be confronting, but you get the idea.
Yet towering above all those issues will be the issue of your lifetime – climate change and the atmospheric and social chaos that will result from a warming planet. Never has there been a generation which could say “I want to save the world” with that task being precisely what they are called to do, without hyperbole.
There is a movement underway that will be about making more fundamental changes in how we live and what we eat, where and how we get our energy, and how we relate to Nature that will be the most important movement in human history, without precedent. Either we do what must be done to eliminate fossil fuel emissions and begin drawing down CO2 from the atmosphere, or your children (if you choose to have children) will be condemned to witnessing the complete destruction of living systems that sustain our lives and the lives of millions of plant and animal species with whom we share the planet. Even the clouds may disappear from the sky, the science is telling us now.
Can you imagine living with no clouds?
Your peers are leading that movement now in groups like the Sunrise Movement (you have the T-shirt!) or the Extinction Rebellion or, perhaps quite importantly, the court challenge lodged by Our Children’s Trust, which seeks to establish that “through the government’s affirmative actions that cause climate change, it has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.”
That case has been fought tooth and nail by both the Trump and Obama administrations who have not wanted a jury of peers to see evidence that the government and fossil fuel companies knew what they were doing would warm the world and threaten the sustainability of all life, yet government subsidized dirty energy anyway and fossil fuel companies raked in profits while making the public clean up their environmental messes.
There is statement by a judge in the Our Children’s Trust lawsuit that may go down in history as among the most important words in our collective history, if the young people get a chance to go before a jury: “Exercising my ‘reasoned judgment,’ I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.” – US District Judge Ann Aiken
So, I persist, maybe even harangue my granddaughter on her benchmark birthday which should be an occasion of joy. But just as those in my generation insisted on the right to vote because we were faced with being drafted into war, so too have you been drafted into a collapsing climate, caused by a literal war against Nature for quick profits, and you must be the advocate for peace with Nature. You must join a movement to end that war against Nature, as much as you can, through efforts like a Green New Deal, taking part in political arena or entering there yourself someday.
Finally, as one of my favorite writers, the poet-farmer Wendell Berry, says in his poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” – I say to you with this enclosed gift by which you can celebrate your birthday: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.” Never forget to have fun and share the beauty of life with those around you, even as you are perforce required to be involved in protecting our planet and all it beautiful beings. Go have some fun, and I wish I could be there to give you a big hug and kiss.
I love you,