I Am Called to Show Up for Climate Justice

I Am Called to Show Up for Climate Justice

I am a college student, but more urgently, I am a young Unitarian Universalist working to save my future.

Selfie of Zoë Johnston in Washington, D.C., with the Capitol building in the background, October 15, 2021, to join in protest and arrest to demand climate action.

Zoë Johnston in Washington, D.C., October 15, 2021, to join in protest and arrest to demand climate action. (courtesy Zoë Johnston)

courtesy Zoë Johnston


It was halfway through the fall semester of my last year of college, and I had three papers due in a week’s time. Instead, on October 13, I was on a train to Washington, D.C., to join other climate activists for a weeklong action called People vs. Fossil Fuels. There, I would support the wide coalition of organizations that were demanding President Biden choose a fossil-free future. This week of action was specifically scheduled to take place before the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow in early November. President Biden campaigned on being a climate president, and he can demonstrate that tangibly at COP26. Everyone that showed up in D.C. was determined to hold Biden accountable to climate justice.

I’m a full-time college student. Much of my time is dedicated to attending class, doing readings, or writing papers—all of which is meant to prepare me for my future. But this future is at risk due to the ever-worsening climate crisis. I’m a student, but I’m also a young Unitarian Universalist who is called to put my values into action. I’m a student, but more so I’m someone who is deeply concerned about whether I’ll have a planet to live on in ten years. So, on October 13 my top priority was showing up for the interdependent web of life—the Earth, our ancestors, each other—not the midterms that awaited me back on campus.

The most powerful action that I was part of—the youth-led action—took place on Friday, October 15. Among “Stop Line 3” banners were signs that read, “You’ve Messed with the Wrong Generation.” We marched from the White House to the Capitol with these statements held high and voices chanting loudly. At the reflecting pool, we heard from Black and Indigenous youth who are already experiencing the climate crisis on the frontlines. The thread that ran through all their stories was that we are out of time, and climate mitigation initiatives must be taken now.

Our action culminated in a sit-in at an intersection in front of the Capitol. We sat in concentric circles facing inward, all of us creating a protective barrier for the Indigenous youth that were risking arrest in the center. These youth ranged in age from 12 to 18, but even though they were young, they had seen the climate crisis destroying the lands that their ancestors have stewarded for generations. I was humbled to sit with them, inspired by their courage, yet heartbroken by the violent colonial systems that have forced them to demonstrate like this. We all ended up being charged with incommoding (obstructing a sidewalk or road), but it was worth it to make such a visible stand for climate justice, Indigenous rights, and a livable future for young people.

While I was in line waiting to pay my post-and-forfeit fee—a $50 fine for the incommoding charge—my co-conspirators asked me what group I was organizing with. I told them that I was in D.C. as part of Unitarian Universalist Young Adults for Climate Justice. Their eyes lit up in recognition, and they told me about how UUs always showed up to their local protests. It was amazing to hear that our faith has this kind of impact, that people across the country are connecting our name with social justice. I shared with them that I was a lifelong Unitarian Universalist and that my values brought me to this work. I am called to show up for climate justice because I believe that courageous love can transform the world.

Attending actions such as People vs. Fossil Fuels feels like a spiritual practice to me. It is a chance to be grounded in community, to learn intergenerationally, and to put my Unitarian Universalist faith into action. I felt held by the wisdom of the Earth and the compassion of my co-conspirators. When I returned to my college campus, I was less stressed than when I left. Even though my midterms still needed to be written, I felt reenergized by the work of all the climate activists I had met. The classroom is a familiar place of learning for me, but I was taught so much wisdom by everyone that attended People vs. Fossil Fuels. I am a student, but, more urgently, I am a Unitarian Universalist young adult working to save my future.