10/15: Brower Youth Awards!
Herbicide-Free Campus Founder, Mackenzie Feldman, is one of six young people to receive the Brower Youth Award this year on October 15th.
Every year, six young people are selected for their outstanding work in environmental and social justice activism and campaigns and for their role in organizing and leading the environmental movement. This year’s winners are exceptional, as they represent the entire spectrum of environmental issues— from fighting oil refineries and coal plant pollution in low income neighborhoods, to banning pesticides at schools, investigating the role of chemicals in cancer clusters, to organizers of the youth climate strikes.
To see this year’s winners, visit the Brower Youth Awards website:
The Award Ceremony takes place at the War Memorial Herbst Theatre in San Francisco on October 15, in front of an audience of 500 people. Each winner delivers a speech and a short documentary profiling each winner is presented to the audience.
Please see below for a first look at the biographies of this year’s winners!
Isha Clarke, a 16 year old from Oakland, California, is one of the original members of Youth vs. Apocalypse, a diverse group of youth activists who came together to protest a coal terminal which was (and still is) to be built in an underserved community of color in Oakland.
Isha’s activism began in the city where she lives. In 2017, Isha found herself at a youth-led action targeting a developer who was in the process of suing the city of Oakland to allow him to build a controversial coal terminal through West Oakland, a low-income community of color. Isha learned that this community was already struggling with environmental illnesses such as asthma, that would be exacerbated by the coal terminal. This is when she discovered how central environmental racism is to fighting for environmental justice. Isha felt it was right to stand up and speak truth to power.
Isha has broadened her activism and is now one of the leaders of Youth Vs Apocalypse, a group of youth activists from the Bay Area who recently confronted Senator Dianne Feinstein, along with Bay Area Earth Guardians Crew and Sunrise Movement, about her stance on the Green New Deal in a now viral video. This event sparked a vital national conversation about both the Green New Deal, and the role of young people in climate activism. Since gaining this platform, Isha and Youth Vs Apocalypse activists have continued fighting for radical climate action that is centered around frontline communities. They organized the hugely successful March 15th Bay Area Youth Climate Strike, planned a community block party, both aligning with the Friday’s For Future campaign started by Greta Thunberg, and, with Sunrise Movement, organized a powerful series of actions at the California Democratic Convention.
Isha strives to create a movement that reflects the world that young people want to see. She works to make sure the voices of young people, people of color, and disenfranchised frontline communities are the loudest.
Mackenzie Feldman is a 23 year old from Honolulu, Hawaii, and is the founder of Herbicide-Free Campus, a campaign to ban herbicides at schools. Her campaign originated at UC Berkeley, was expanded to all UC campuses and then broadened to schools across the US.
Her work is inspired by the fact that Hawaii— where she is from— is ground zero for industrial agriculture, and they do the most GMO seed testing in Hawaii out of anywhere in the country. She has witnessed her people poisoned and land destroyed by the big chemical corporations. The campaign came about after a day at a beach volleyball practice when she was a junior at UC Berkeley, and her coach told the team that an herbicide had just been sprayed around the courts. Mackenzie and one of her teammates immediately got herbicides banned from the courts, and then expanded the efforts to the rest of campus, launching Herbicide-Free Cal with the support of organizers from Food and Water Watch.
Mackenzie achieved a major success when the use of glyphosate was temporarily banned from all University of California campuses. She has since broadened her efforts to a national level to reach as many universities as possible, renaming her campaign “Herbicide-Free Campus.” She has worked with a coalition to get herbicides banned from every public school in Hawaii, and also launched a chapter at the University of Hawaii campuses, as well as Sacramento Unified School district. Mackenzie mentors students on how to organize and cultivate relationships with groundskeepers, and has provided resources in the form of data, student support, financial support, as well as training and instruction for the groundskeepers in alternative maintenance methods. She also teaches students how to launch a campaign and train them on campaign strategy, university-wide policy, student recruitment, and digital organizing tools.
Mackenzie hopes to have a far-reaching impact that will lead us to a toxic-free world, where farm workers, families, children, animals, and ecosystems will no longer be exposed to harmful pesticides.
Lia Harel is an 18 year old from Minnetonka, Minnesota, who is one of the founders and main organizers behind Minnesota Can’t Wait, a youth-led movement pushing for bold climate action in the state of Minnesota.
Lia became an organizer in the climate movement three years ago when she began to understand how the climate crisis impacts every aspect of society including the economy, public health, food security, safety, and quality of life. Fueled by this frustration, she joined with other passionate youth activists in the summer of 2018 to demand her state play a leading role in the adoption of just climate policies. Together, they formed the movement known as Minnesota Can’t Wait, named for the impatience the youth feel regarding the need for solutions that meet the scope and scale of the crisis.
Over the next few months, the youth brought other young people, organizers, faith leaders, Indigenous communities, business people, and politicians to stand together on three main points: 1) no more fossil fuel infrastructure development in the state, 2) regulate statewide greenhouse gasses, and 3) support the Minnesota Green New Deal Bill. They organized rallies at the state Capitol, led a march, testified in Committee hearings, published op-eds, and helped write the framework for the Minnesota Green New Deal Bill.
Lia is an organizer in this movement because she hopes to shift the conversation in Minnesotan communities and set a stronger expectation for the state to pass climate legislation for a just and sustainable economy.
Isra Hirsi is a 16 year old from Minneapolis, Minnesota, who is the Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of the US Youth Climate Strike which focuses on fighting the climate crisis through climate strikes and climate policy.
Isra grew up in Minnesota in a diverse community and with a realization of an intense climate crisis. She developed a knowledge of environmental issues by witnessing pipelines being built in her state, extreme snow conditions, and hearing about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. She wanted to take action.
She founded the US Youth Climate Strike, with the first strike in March of 2019. The organization is actively working to fight the climate crisis. With the help of 100+ organizers and 15+ partners, the organization was able to pull off multiple strikes and a massive petition calling for a climate debate. Isra is involved in this movement because she wants to take action in a way that is both accessible and visible. She wanted to create a group/movement that wasn’t centered around privilege but the complexities of climate change and its impact on black and brown communities. The youth climate strikers are working towards representing everyone and highlighting people and communities on the frontlines.
Isra is also very inspired by her little sister, who is supposed to graduate high school in 2030 when the planet is expected to hit a tipping point. Isra believes it is crucial that she fight for people like her sister and to raise the profile of diverse youth voices in the fight for climate justice.
Shannon Lisa is a 21 year old from Avenel, New Jersey, and the Program Director of the non-profit organization, Edison Wetlands Association, that investigates the effects of chemical contaminant dumping in communities in Indiana and beyond.
Through “environmental detective work,” Shannon is committed to protecting human health and the environment through the investigation of hazardous waste sites. Shannon became involved in the issue of harmful chemicals after growing up in the state with the greatest number of contaminated sites and seeing first-hand the devastating effects it has on communities.
Shannon has led the charge for over two years to crack open a decades-old toxic cold case. In mid-2017, she learned about dozens of children getting sick with rare cancers in and around Franklin, Indiana. Local families long-believed their health was being affected by unhealthy levels of chemicals in the environment, and felt they could not get answers from the government agencies. Shannon and her organization filed extensive requests to the federal Environmental Protection Agency to secure as much information as possible on the history of environmental impacts in the community. After months of pouring through over 40,000 pages of previously hidden documents, she uncovered a bombshell. A nearby industrial site assured by the EPA to be cleaned up had been severely mismanaged and poorly investigated. A cocktail of poison gases, including the known carcinogen TCE, may have been invading what most people consider to be a safe place— their homes— for years. She coordinated with the community group, If It Was Your Child, and environmental technical team, Mundell & Associates, to conduct the first-ever scientific testing of residential indoor air. This research, and the discovery that some homes had detections of industrial toxins as much as 18x over the state threshold, led to the Environmental Protection Agency reopening a wide scale investigation.
Shannon continues to work with the Franklin, Indiana, community as they get closer to achieving a new, permanent cleanup, and advocates for change on a national scale so that no family has to feel unsafe in their homes because of industry’s toxic assaults.
Tammy “Ale” Ramos is a 17 year old from Los Angeles, California, who is a youth organizer with Communities for a Better Environment’s youth group “Youth for Environmental Justice” that filed a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles over the approving of oil drilling operations in violation of state law.
Tammy lives in a harbor city in Los Angeles, home to the 3rd largest oil field in the U.S. She became a youth organizer with Communities for a Better Environment to address the volume of drilling/refinery operations, threats to her community, and impacts to her local environment. She and other youth organizers became plaintiffs that sued the city of Los Angeles in 2015 for violation of state law that regulates oil-drilling applications. The city of Los Angeles had approved drilling operations without proper environmental review. Amid settlement of the case, the California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA) intervened in the case, suing the original youth plaintiffs from Communities for a Better Environment, which Tammy was a part of. An appellate court decided that CIPA’s claims were baseless and this case was later dismissed. In their next move, CIPA appealed to the Supreme Court of California. The highest court in California denied CIPA’s request for review and the court sided with the youth. This officially ended the case.
Since the lawsuits, the city of Los Angeles has begun implementing stronger environmental review of drilling projects. Tammy and the other youth organizers have worked alongside Communities for a Better Environment in teaching the issues in their Wilmington community. They brainstormed ideas on how to inform our community by creating pins, workshops, and going out doorknocking. The youth worked alongside the organization’s lawyers who shared the same values and worked long hours trying to defend against and protest against big oil.
Tammy hopes that this case serves as motivation for fellow youth leaders around the country to create change in their community. Moving onward, she will keep fighting to live in a just world, using her voice as an organizer to end environmental racism.