“On a nondescript patch of grass in New York, on the morning of April 14, 2018, an accomplished civil rights lawyer and beloved father, husband and community member sat down and calmly and lit himself on fire. The note he left to the world named fossil fuels and climate change as the reason. […]”
“It’s a bright and breezy afternoon in Flagstaff and I’ve spent the morning drinking coffee with a human friend and three pup friends. I’m getting really excited about leaving next week for a yoga teacher training in Costa Rica. I’ve been committed to a yoga practice for the last several years, but I am feeling a renewed curiosity: why is this work my work? how can I practice yoga with a decolonial framework? what does my yoga practice mean to me, particularly in this moment of feeling immersed in thinking about climate chaos and living on the Colorado Plateau?”
“On a Friday evening in Flagstaff, this poem was shared to a crowd of young people grappling with our current climate crisis through storytelling. Stories were shared throughout the night of dying aspen, desecrated mountains, and deadly cancer, as well as clear visions for the future and the process of getting where we want to be. […]”
"On Sunday November 5th, thousands dawned white jumpsuits and marched towards the last coal mine in Bonn, Germany, occupying it for the full day and shutting down operations completely. This beautifully executed civil uprising, called Ende Gelände (which means “Here and no further” in German), was one of the largest demonstrations of its kind. I had the opportunity to march alongside German activists with other Uplifters and reflect in awe about the scale of people power and potential for saving our climate through mass uprising. […]”
“One could say Uplift has been millions of years in the making. The major uplift which lifted the Colorado Plateau from sea-level to several thousand feet, the continental drift that moved the Plateau from the equator, and that separated the Plateau from Pangea to the American continent, all came together to physically place the Plateau where it is today. But these are just the geologic forces that made the Colorado Plateau. […]”
At my college, I am not just an environmental studies major, but I have been a mentor for our low-income/first generation college students for years. One of the many things I have realized as a poor environmentalist, is that many of our low-income/first generation students do not participate in our Outdoor Education Center (OEC), not even in the trips. Although they do a lot to reach out to us, letting students borrow expensive gear and subsidizing expensive trips, I don’t even use the center. I think I know why.
Hello! My name is Eva Malis and I am 21 years old. I grew up in the sunny suburbs of Los Angeles County and was fortunate to spend many of my growing years romping through the Eastern Sierras. I have spent the more recent years of my life in the SF Bay Area as a UC Berkeley student, and have experienced the Colorado Plateau through the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program.
Meet Elea Ziegelbaum, an 18-year-old climate activist living in Flagstaff, Arizona. She is currently in her senior year of high school at Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy. We first met Elea when she walked into a Flagstaff community meeting last July, and have learned more about her work since Uplift in August 2016. We asked her the following questions to get a better sense of the interplay between Uplift and other regional movements.
It’s been three months since Uplift’s powerful gathering of young climate justice activists from across the Colorado Plateau. Five of us who dreamed, schemed, and learned at Uplift now find ourselves bringing heart to COP22—the UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakech, Morocco. When Kayla reflects on Uplift, she feels that Uplift “strives to incorporate the local voice and have difficult conversations connecting social issues to the environment.”
A professor of mine once justified a syllabus comprised almost entirely of male writers with the flip comment that perhaps women had not yet written a "seminal" body of work. Therefore, women did not belong in the Western cannon. Now, I know this to be false. Yet it demonstrates how as women writers and women readers, we are tasked with shouldering the work to undo the sexism, racism, and classism upheld within the literary establishment.
We engage in storytelling, art, and music, because we believe creative vulnerability is the truest pathway to reconnecting with ourselves.
As the 2016 Uplift Climate Conference rapidly approaches, the Uplift organizing team experiences moments of frantic and youthful dis-organization. It seems like finals week in college, and the only way to reassure ourselves is to say, “It will all get done.”
In March, the Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation traveled to Washington, D.C, in a fight for time. The Army Corps of Engineers had conveniently sidestepped a mandate by the National Historic Preservation Act that calls for tribal consultation in regions of sacred significance prior to any construction that could impact the area.
I remember the day that everything changed for me. I was eighteen years old and a first-timer to the mountain town of Flagstaff that I have called home for six years now. In 2010, destiny saw me involved in home weatherization efforts, bringing low-income community members into a program provided by the city. One of our outreach efforts involved a group of six of us (undergraduates, graduate students, and professors) door-knocking in a predominantly Latina/o part of town.
July 15, 2016
Young leaders across the Colorado Plateau thank the Administration for convening a public meeting in Bluff, Utah to discuss ways to best protect the area. We urge officials from the U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Forest Service to recommend that President Obama protect the Bears Ears region in Southeastern Utah as a national monument.
“For my generation, protecting Bears Ears is a chance for healing past injustices and restoring respect to tribes,” said Brooke Larsen, Uplift Organizer from Salt Lake City. “Protecting Bears Ears is a necessary step towards more diverse and inclusive public lands.”
The Bears Ears region is the ancestral homeland of many southwestern indigenous tribes and a landscape with more than 100,000 Native American cultural sites. Yet, it remains unprotected despite decades of efforts to safeguard this area.
“I first understood the depth of Native American history in the Bears Ears region while hiking the Grand Gulch. From the San Juan River, one experiences hundreds of pieces of painted and coiled-clay pottery, myriad granaries and dwellings built into cliffs, and faded hand-prints and shamanic figures staring down from sandstone walls,” said Marcel Gaztambide, Uplift Organizer from Salt Lake City. “The littered beer cans, candy wrappers, and other human refuse made the need for enhanced protection obvious. The value and fragility of this place demands monument status.”
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has recently stated that they are currently investigating nearly a half dozen looting and vandalism cases in the area, highlighting the urgent need to protect Bears Ears now.
In addition, the area faces growing threats from oil and gas development and potash and uranium mining. Such development would permanently damage this culturally and ecologically important landscape.
“Keeping all fossil fuels in the ground may be unrealistic, but our leaders must have the courage to protect our most sacred and wild places from the destruction of extraction,” said Larsen. “The deep time of the red rock inspires hope in our capacity for restraint.”
In 2016, a coalition of five sovereign Native American Tribal Nations requested that President Obama protect the area as a national monument. This effort has support from the outdoor recreation industry and other business leaders, archeologists, communities of faith, and conservation groups. In addition, recent polls showed that 71 percent of Utahans support a Bears Ears National Monument.
“I moved to the Southwest and began working to protect public lands because of the Bears Ears region,” said Claire Martini, Uplift Coordinator. “As young people, we rely on the actions of our elders to make our future better. Bears Ears is a tremendous opportunity for the President to safeguard our cultural heritage and environmental quality for future generations.”
Uplift, a youth-organized climate action community, was formed in partnership with the Grand Canyon Trust and the Landscape Conservation Initiative in November 2014 to empower and unite young leaders to address critical environmental issues across the Colorado Plateau. The youth-directed movement that emerged from these efforts, Uplift Climate Conference, has worked to elevate youth voices and support creative discussion to help further the climate movement. This year’s conference is August 18-20 in Durango, CO. The inaugural conference was held in Flagstaff in April 2015.
6 "Learning Experiences" from the Uplift process
In any given room, Uplifters may not have the most academic degrees, years of experience, or published papers, but let’s get something straight: Our action is rooted in love for this place, sacred rage regarding the threats, and a need to protect our communities. We don’t know everything, but living here teaches us enough to start.
When I tell people about Uplift, often they’re interested in outcomes. They want to know: How many people did you reach? What have you accomplished? I cringe at the implication of "deliverables." Because as I’ve come to appreciate, the process is often one of the best parts.
Uplift began with little more than the idea of shaping conservation by “doing something” with young people. At the first Uplift planning retreat in fall of 2014, we took markers to oversized blank pages and combined our visions to put on the inaugural Uplift gathering in April 2015. Almost 100 people showed up! The discussion of conservation as it pertains to young desert dwellers on the Colorado Plateau impressed our sponsors enough to make them invest in Uplift again, and now we're honing in on climate change and the need for enhanced collaboration across the region. Uplift is growing!
But it's not always an easy ride. Along the way, our Uplift organizers (a dynamic and mostly volunteer team) have had some pretty hilarious moments. In the name of transparency, we want to share them with you.
Check out six moments we affectionately call "learning experiences" from the Uplift organizing process:
1. One of our team members has moved a grand total of 6 times since November. We're talking big, interstate moves. It's the perfect illustration of why our demographic is hard to organize. Young people are transient! Life happens. And we've got a lot of it unfolding.
When we’re moving around and working crazy hours at our day jobs, staying connected means…
2. Using Slack to stay in touch. So. Many. Messages. To be exact, we've sent 2.9K since November. Current emoji totals unknown.
3. We’re trying to get hip with the times and reach out to more people through social media. But sometimes, that doesn’t go so well…like when we had trouble getting Facebook to display the right time zone for an event.
4. We brought Uplift on the road! Which was a success overall, but some meetings looked like this for a while…which taught us we had to up our communication and collaboration with partners on the ground.
Community organizing happens by building relationships, one conversation at a time. Listen in on the conversation in Moab.
5. Conference calls. These can be productive. Or, they can be ridiculous. A favorite moment of mine was when Brooke and I were calling in from the BLM offices in Salt Lake City, another organizer from rural Maine, and one team member took the call from a noisy coffee shop in Flagstaff. Midway through giving an update on the program, she yelped “Biscotti! In my coffee! I just dropped my biscotti in my coffee!” Typical conference call. If you haven’t seen this spoof, watch it. It’s too real.
So, why is it worth it?
Growing Uplift to where it is now has taken years, sweat, and a few tears along the way. But we’re honoring the process of Uplift by sticking with it, even when things don’t turn out exactly perfect because we still believe that “doing something” is the best place to start. Take the first step by joining us this August 18-20 in Durango! Don't forget your sass.
Attention, young lovers of public land! If you hike, bike, camp, climb, farm, boat, or study in the West, we'd like to hear what public lands mean to you. Share your words and images!
Why? We're making memes to spread the word about Uplift and climate justice to tell the world (or at least the internet) that young people care about Western public lands.
What we'd like:
1. Your name, age, and hometown
2. A glamour shot of YOU on public lands
3. Answers to one or more of these questions:
Why are you excited about Uplift?
For me, climate justice is…
Why us (youth), why now?
What does the Colorado Plateau mean to you?
What do public lands mean to you?
We'll post submissions we receive to Instagram and Facebook, and you'll be helping us get the word out about Uplift. See ideas of what we're looking for:
We can't wait to hear what you have to say! Please send your photos and answers to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guest post by Emily Gillit, who wrote about Uplift for a journalism assignment this spring:
Emily Gillit has lived in Northern Arizona for the majority of her life. She is currently attending Northern Arizona University to study Photography and Journalism so she can share the beauty and wonder hidden in plain sight here in Arizona.
Over the weekend of April 17-19, 2015 at Camp Colton, the Grand Canyon Trust hosted Uplift, their first climate conference for young people, by young people. The goal of the conference, according to the Grand Canyon Trust website is “to empower and unite young leaders to address climate change on the Colorado Plateau.”
The Grand Canyon Trust’s mission is “to protect and restore the Colorado Plateau — its spectacular landscapes, flowing rivers, clean air, diversity of plants and animals, and areas of beauty and solitude.” A youth conference was the perfect way for the Grand Canyon Trust to connect to young and young-at-heart people to inform them of the issues within the region and help them understand what they can do to help.
In explaining the name of the conference, Claire Martini, coordinator for Uplift and for youth engagement for AmeriCorps, said, “we called ourselves Uplift, after the geologic phenomenon that defines the Colorado Plateau. For us, home lies within the elevated contours and aridity that define this broad sweep of high desert.”
The Grand Canyon Trust used Camp Colton to set the tone of the conference, by getting all of their participants to connect with the outdoors. Camp Colton is “a residential environmental education center that is owned by the Flagstaff Unified School District,” according to the Friends of Camp Colton website.
The Colorado Plateau is a region that encompasses a wide range of natural features spanning across the four corners region. The plateau takes up the majority of Northern Arizona, Southeast Utah, West Colorado and the Northwest of New Mexico.
The conference made itself available to everyone. The fee for Uplift was a minimum donation of $5. The Grand Canyon Trust also offered the opportunity for registration fee waivers and travel scholarships.
Uplift attracted people from across the country, including students from Washington, from all types of backgrounds and ethnicities, drawing them into the conversation about conservation of the Colorado Plateau. The variety of backgrounds lent itself to expanding the conversation.
The first panel attended by all participants discussed the state of the land, water and politics in relation to the Colorado Plateau. The general goal of the panel was to spark the discussion that would be at the center of the conference, informing all of the participants of the current issues facing the region.
Discussions and workshops took up the majority of the three-day conference. The Grand Canyon Trust gave participants the option of choosing the workshops he or she wanted to attend. Options ranged from ‘Wilderness and Wildness’ to ‘Black Mesa Water Coalition: Just Transitions and Restorative Economy’ and ‘Save the Confluence’ to ‘Passion for Place: Photography in Conservation’ among many others.
In reflection on Uplift, a conference attendee said, “ I now feel empowered with knowledge to carry forward and make actual change. It was so important to bring people together from diverse backgrounds so we can learn from each other...also, [I was] so inspired to see an event this effective organized by people my age!”
Approximately 90 young and young-at-heart people attended the conference, working together and participating in discussions and workshops.
Each Uplift participant left Camp Colton with a greater understanding of the Colorado Plateau, with connections to people who were as passionate as they were and with the knowledge of how to make a difference in issues facing the region.
Uplift laid the groundwork for future conferences by the Grand Canyon Trust as well as expanding the network of people interested in the issues relating to the Colorado Plateau. The 2015 conference was planned over six short months by 10 coordinators. The Grand Canyon Trust is already working on Uplift 2016, currently planned for August 18-20 in Durango, Colorado. The Grand Canyon Trust and Northern Arizona University’s Landscape Conservation Initiative make Uplift possible.
This piece is part of the Red Rock Stories project. The first phase of the project is a chapbook titled "Red Rock Testimony" that Torrey House Press Publisher Kirsten Allen and writer Stephen Trimble will deliver to the U.S. Congress and the Obama administration later this month. Part of Brooke's story is featured on the opening page. The story will also appear in the Red Rock Stories online community in the coming months and Red Rock Stories: Three Generations Speak on Behalf of Utah's Public Lands forthcoming in 2017 by Torrey House Press.
As I descend the sticky sandstone cliffs into the Dirty Devil wilderness, anxiety seeps over me. Heading into the backcountry for three days makes me stop and run through any unsent emails before leaving cell service behind. Initially, my unease in disconnecting from technology overshadows my relief in reconnecting with nature. But as a child of the red rock, that feeling quickly fades. My jaw loosens, my eyes come alive, and I howl. I hear the echo as a reminder that I am untamable.
I am in my early twenties. My generation is screen saturated and nature deprived. We find constant connection in our digital world, yet we hunger for depth. Our friendships grow in quantity rather than quality. Our relationship with our self and our environment degrades as our fear of solitude and silence grows. It’s not revolutionary to say my generation needs wilderness more than ever.
I reach the Dirty Devil and sink my feet in the mud at the river’s edge. Joy tingles every inch of my flesh, awakening my wild spirit. For me, few things match the beauty and awe of flowing water in a landscape of red. Even the rivers run red. One could say this landscape is parched earth, but as long as rivers flow, life seems in perfect balance. If I have children, will they also find a flowing Dirty Devil in 50 years?
The forces trying to desecrate this landscape not only leave initial scars, schisms and spills. The oil rigs and natural gas flares contribute to a much more existential threat—climate change. For my generation, it’s impossible to separate the need for wildness from the need for climate justice. Protecting this landscape is not just protecting our human spirit—it’s protecting the future of all life in the region. With daunting climate change predictions, it’s realistic to wonder if the Dirty Devil will still flow for the next generation. The economic, legal and biological ramifications of a water-stressed Colorado River Basin are well known. But what about the spiritual?
Crossing the Dirty Devil River, I head towards the canyons of the Robbers Roost. In popular culture, Robbers Roost is known as the outlaw hideout of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. For desert dwellers, it’s known for its wildness. Here, I follow coyote tracks rather than human footprints. I respect the power of water and wind to carve stories into walls. I experience desperately needed solitude and silence.
The red rock wilderness is my spiritual refuge and teacher of humility. In a society where young people can navigate anywhere with an app, I learn from navigating based on geologic layers and topographic lines. In a culture where we can have food delivered to us in minutes, I learn from planning my survival around the dependability of perennial streams. We realize our own insignificance. We realize our vulnerability.
For me, protecting this place is deeply personal. My family has called Utah home for six generations, but I didn’t grow up with religion. I grew up questioning. My story is written in carved slot canyons and desert washes. Wildness became my spiritual refuge—particularly the red rock wilderness of southern Utah. So if I respect the churches of others, why are the leaders of my state constantly disrespecting mine?
My red rock story is one of self-preservation. As the lands and people around me grow increasingly tamed, I fear I will lose my own wild, human spirit. Each drop of oil extracted digs me into a deeper existential crisis as I wonder if under a changing climate this region will remain livable.
The eyes of young people are closely watching. The spirits of future generations are pleading. The deep time of the red rock inspires hope—from the geologic story told in layers of orange, pink and red to the rock art left by ancestors of Native Americans who still call Bears Ears home. However, increasingly it feels like we are running out of time.
Our leaders must choose between greed and restraint. Our leaders must choose between preserving the American spirit and destroying it. Our leaders must choose a healthy, safe future for their grandchildren or immediate profit for themselves. If we think ethically and compassionately, the decision is not hard. As a young person, I implore you to act wisely and lovingly.
The Uplift team has returned home from the first round of community conversations. We owe a big “thank you” to those who contributed to the discussion, and we’re inspired to see the broad range of youth-led climate work happening already across the Colorado Plateau!
In Prescott, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Durango, Moab, and Salt Lake City, the climate priorities communities identified were fairly consistent even as the organizing approaches and individuals varied. Young people spoke with care about water use and protection, curbing fossil fuel extraction, protecting wild and sacred spaces, and supporting sustainable communities. Many expressed concern about a non-receptive political climate at a local, regional, and national level. Read more about Uplift’s community conversations, from a reporter’s perspective.
What to do about it? Solutions may lie in ideas ranging from concrete to ethereal: education, networking, creativity, art, protest, community, uncertainty, democracy, affordable housing, restoration, language, traditional knowledge, and more.
Myriad young people are already fighting the good fight. For the people we spoke with, work to address the climate conundrum ranged from protesting at BLM lease auctions to building affordable and sustainable housing. They’re already using innovative ways to reach people, from putting art and creativity at the center, to enhancing inter-generational collaboration.
Here's where Uplift comes in: as a connector between various groups and individuals working across the expanse of the Colorado Plateau.
Meetings were best attended when we had personal connections or made contact with existing networks, and we learned about the areas where we have more work to do building relationships and community. As a group, we aim to highlight and support the amazing work already taking place on the ground, and weave it into a larger story for our region. If you have meaningful opportunities for young people to speak up and engage, whether organizing events, campaigns, rallies, or something else, please let us know and we’ll send it out to our networks! To stay connected on social media, you can find us on Facebook and Instagram.
Looking forward, we’d love for you to join us at the conference August 18-20 in the San Juan National Forest outside Durango, Colorado.
As you probably already suspect, this isn’t your typical “conference.” It’s a celebration of what’s at stake. Uplifters can plan on camping amidst the ponderosa pines for three days of panel discussions, storytelling, and regional break-out groups to help strengthen the work you’re doing, or give you the tools and connections to dive in. We hope you’ll share your presence and ideas at Uplift this August. Please get in touch, because we can’t wait to work together and build community across this wild home of ours.
(If you need support to attend, please let us know, as limited scholarships for registration or travel are available.)