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.
Why did you decide to participate in Uplift? How did it connect with your existing work and passions?
I decided to participate in Uplift because I wanted to meet other passionate youth fighting for climate justice. As I am the leader of an EarthGuardians Crew at my school and have done activism as well as conservation work around the Colorado Plateau, I wanted to make connections with fellow youth so as to learn from one another, compare our experiences in this work, and collaborate with each other to create the sustainable future we want.
What ideas or connections from Uplift have been most impactful? Did Uplift introduce anything you hadn't thought about before?
One very valuable thing that Uplift taught me was that climate justice and social justice go hand in hand. All human matters relate to each other in some way, thus, the fight for climate justice is also a fight against social and economic injustice. The system which is perpetrating climate change is also the same one which wages war, keeps people in poverty, treats men and women unequally and oppresses racial groups, among many other things. Social justice is a fundamental matter of climate justice, as we will never be able to attain the future we demand in a system which values wealth and power over human rights.
What does your environmental work/activism/organizing look like right now? Do you see it changing in the near future? Tell us a little about what you've found to be the most effective and where you need to grow.
The environmental work I am doing right now is especially focused on empowering my peers in my community and school to realize the immense power they hold in their voice, and that with it, they can create the change they want to see in our world. I mainly do this through the Earth Guardians chapter I run at my school. The crew has done a lot of good work this year, such as protesting and rallying, raising awareness at our school about climate change, creating art, and doing community service work.
Our focus as a club has lately turned to taking any possible action to safeguard our lands and strengthen environmental regulations before president-elect Donald Trump takes office. We have been signing petitions and pledges and are in the process of writing letters to our local representatives urging them to take action against Trump's anti-environmentalist agenda.
What I have found to be most important in this work is to stay positive and motivated. It sometimes proves to be difficult to stay engaged when I get negative feedback for the work I do, but reminding myself of the importance of climate justice always makes the occasional let-down more than worth it.
You grew up in Flagstaff. What are your most pressing concerns in our area?
Having grown up in Flagstaff, I have seen its landscape and the landscape of Northern Arizona in general undergo drastic change. Rising temperatures, desecration of indigenous land, a shrinking water supply, development, mining, and a growing population are all among the issues that cause me deep concern for the beautiful Colorado Plateau. I think it is important for us, as inhabitants of this unique region, to mobilize ourselves to fight against the big mining and energy companies that the Southwest is most vulnerable to, to urge our representatives to craft responsible and progressive water policy, and to advocate for and support local business and initiatives to discourage the big corporate chains which have slowly been overtaking Flagstaff. I think it is also crucial for non-indigenous people to offer themselves as allies for Native peoples of this region, as they almost always bear the brunt of this desecration.
What gives you hope?
What gives me hope is the love and vibrancy behind the environmental movement. Uplift was just one of the many examples of the innovative, scintillating, and enthusiastic minds which are making up this movement, and who are making up our future. What gives me hope is knowing that I will be inheriting this world with these inspiring and compassionate individuals, who are the creators of a future which embraces equity, harmony, and peace for all beings on Earth.