Members of Youth vs. Apocalypse Defend Their Exchange With Dianne Feinstein

“We were not ‘aggrieved.’”

Jeff Chiu / AP

Dianne Feinstein Doesn’t Need a Do-Over

Last week, a group of children and teenagers from organizations including Youth vs. Apocalypse and the Sunrise Movement went to Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office in San Francisco to ask her to vote for the Green New Deal. A video of the exchange—in which Feinstein explains her objections to the legislation—soon went viral.

“At the 13th hour of a long career,” Caitlin Flanagan wrote this week, “Feinstein did something that the kids weren’t expecting. She took them seriously, and she patiently explained some truths about American political life that they didn’t understand. And then she did the one thing that an old woman isn’t supposed to do. She said that she wasn’t good at her job in spite of being old, but because of it.”

On the morning of Friday, February 22, we urged our senator, Dianne Feinstein, to support the Green New Deal. We were not “aggrieved,” as Caitlin Flanagan suggests in her article. We are members of Youth vs. Apocalypse who are passionate about the Green New Deal and its potential to effectively address the urgent issue of climate change. We were representing no agenda but our own, and that agenda is that we want to live.

Flanagan says that we showed up at Senator Feinstein’s office to “teach her a lesson.” That is not the case. The truth is, we were there to voice our genuine concerns and to advocate for our views regarding upcoming legislation. We did not “bust into the office of an old woman with the intention of telling her how uninformed she is.” Senator Feinstein’s staff invited us into the building. We are speaking up now because science tells us we have so little time to act. You cannot compromise with science. The longer we wait to take action, the more costly and devastating the impact of this crisis will be. We are the people who will be at the forefront of those consequences.

Flanagan mocks our youth. However, we believe that our voices, as Senator Feinstein’s young constituents, matter, especially since our generation will face imminent climate disaster if bold action is not taken immediately. Our future lies in the hands of the adults. The government officials. The people denying climate change. The people who further destroy our environment. They will not raise kids in that environment. They will not have to put on a mask to step outside. They will not have to look back and remember when the polar bears were still alive. Some people who control our future do not understand our anger or our fear.

They also may not understand that we care for our environment and that we understand the fatal destruction of climate change. We know what we are talking about. We have read the proposals, and we understand the science. Because it is our future. Despite being young, we are capable of defending our only home.

We respect Senator Feinstein’s legislative experience and accomplishments. She has broken barriers for women in politics, both in San Francisco and in the U.S. Senate. She has raised her voice where women’s voices have previously been unheard. Even politicians who have broken glass ceilings still represent us and should be responsive to the pressing issues of the current moment.

Flanagan’s caustic tone makes light of the severity of the climate crisis. The past five years have been the hottest ever recorded. The seas are rising, warming, and acidifying. Coral reefs are dying. Glaciers are melting. Western forests have more than 6 billion dead trees. What we need is serious, responsible action to protect the planet that is home to all humans and life. The Green New Deal gives our generation hope that we have a chance of averting the impending disaster because it addresses the climate crisis by setting goals to create millions of jobs with livable, family-sustaining wages and to protect and strengthen the rights of all workers. For example, it hopes to stop the transfer of jobs overseas and protect the workers whose current income is dependent on the fossil-fuel industry. The Green New Deal acknowledges that we can no longer ignore or deny the intersections. We cannot fight for climate justice without also fighting for racial justice, without also fighting for economic justice.

We agree with Heather McGhee, who said on February 24 on Meet the Press, “There’s no higher responsibility of anyone who has any kind of political power right now than to try and stop a global catastrophe that is not happening in three generations. It’s happening now.”

Despite Flanagan’s unfounded assertion that we, the youth, had “fallen apart,” or been “right-sized,” we know we are strong. In the words of Alice Walker, “The most common way that people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

We do have power. We are ready to use it. We demand a future.

Nadja Goldberg, 15
San Francisco, Calif.

Samantha May Robles, 12
Oakland, Calif.

Isha Clarke, 16
Oakland, Calif.

Hannah Estrada, 15
San Francisco, Calif.

Members of Youth vs. Apocalypse

Caitlin Flanagan replies:

Dear Nadja, Samantha, Isha, and Hannah,

Aggrieved is an adjective meaning “feeling resentment at having been unfairly treated.” I think you have been unfairly treated and that you do feel resentful about it. And who can blame you? For the whole of my life—from long before we even knew of climate change and spoke simply of the environment—the global leadership necessary to protect our precious planet has been pathetic. Simply looking at the projected rates of coal use in India and China over the next five years makes me aggrieved too.

I’m glad you wrote. There is something about youth support of the Green New Deal that I don’t understand, and that you expressed directly both in your meeting with Senator Feinstein and in your letter to The Atlantic. As a group, you believe that we are no longer at a point of urgency, but rather of imminent existential threat. Yet you are deeply committed to spending down priceless weeks and months promoting a bill that has no possible chance of passing the Senate. When Senator Feinstein explained that simple truth, one of the people with you casually admitted that “this particular resolution isn’t something that’s aimed at passing right now … The point of voting yes on this is to show the world what we really needed to save our lives.” This seems a contradiction. In your opinion, do we still have time for dramatic lessons, or do we need to act in the great haste?

I hope you will write to me so that we might continue the conversation.

P.S. We are in 100 percent agreement that the world belongs to young people; I see your Alice Walker and raise you one W. B. Yeats.

Much did I rage when young,
Being by the world oppressed,
But now with flattering tongue
It speeds the parting guest.