YES! Youth for Environmental Sanity.
YES! YOUTH FOR ENVIRONMENTAL SANITY. It was 1990, when 16 year old Ocean Robbins heard Nancy Reagan say ‘Just Say No’ on TV. He frowned. It ought to be ‘Just say YES!’ he said, and so Youth for Environmental Sanity was born. The group of friends took local action and soon went on a speaking tour, engaging 600,000 school students United States. As they started to understand the inherited ills of society, YES! set out to bring youth together to build healing bridges across historic divides of color, class and gender. Since, their unique work has spread globally – uniting outstanding young leaders for week-long ‘Jams’, exploring challenges, solutions and healing. They have sparked 500 organizations, spanning the globe, and keep driving innovation. You have to see their videos to get a feel of their work! We just say ‘YES!’
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“We are not the leaders of tomorrow.
We are the leaders of today. And we are going to show you how!”
YES! is the world’s leading network for Nurturing and Supporting Outstanding Young Leaders engaged for social and environmental change. As every tree grows from a small seed, YES! was born from humble beginnings. The dreams and idealism of a 16 year old Californian youth,
Ocean had been an active kid from early age. Home-schooled, creative, selling bakery goods at age 12, Ocean engaged with the world around him. He cared about environmental issues, joined international encounters. That’s when he found his mission lay in empowering people to join together for positive action.
YES! was born when Ocean Robbins heard Nancy Reagan* say “Just say No”. He felt there’s a better way – “Just say Yes! – and it’s just amazing what has grown from it! Ocean started YES! ‘Youth for Environmental Sanity’ together with a few friends in 1990 (www.yesworld.org). Beginning with local environmental actions, Yes! soon started touring the U.S, visiting high schools and speaking to more than 650,000 students, bringing them a special message :
“Young people are not the leaders of tomorrow.
We are the leaders of today.
And we are going to show you how.”
The experience of encounters with young people of different backgrounds, sharing the aspirations for positive change, has brought Yes! to the next step, which they have become known and famous for : Yes! Jams.
There’s a great Inspirational Video about Yes!
YES! JAMS : The healing power of community
Innovators – especially at young age – naturally have few or no one to share their feelings, their drive,motivations and aspirations with. And this can be extremely hard. This is why Yes! is bringing young,visionary leaders together for informal, week-long gatherings, full of dialogue, of sharing their stories, theirpains and dreams, of playing and art, of caring and joy.Until today, Yes! has held more than 90 week-long jams around the world, with visionary young leadersfrom more than sixty-five nations!
Surveys among participants have shown that, among other things, 94% of Jammers gained valuable skillsand perspectives that enhanced their life. They have also started more than 400 non-profit groups workingfor positive change, with immeasurable impact within the organizations and communities they serve.
“You stand out… and the moment you stand out you are in the bulls eye of criticism…”
… At the age of 12, in response to the pervasive violence Colombia, war-torn for the past 50 years, Mayerly Sánchez Clavijo founded the Children’s Movement for Peace in Colombia, responsible for a national youth newspaper about peace, peace and human rights education of over 25,000 children, the participation of young people in the formation of public policy, and the government’s establishment of “peace zones.” It is no surprise that Mayerly has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 3 times.
… Faten A. Olwan Abuseed has lived through two intifadas and been personally subjected to the violence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Ramallah, West Bank, Palestine. She was shot by a soldier while performing journalism duties, microphone in hand, and witnessed the murder of her boyfriend. Faten was an award-winning reporter for Tunis, and is currently correspondent for television and radio stations. As Ahmed Qureia’s, Palestinian Prime Minister, media coordinator, she hopes her work will contribute to the re-establishment of communication and trust between Israeli and Palestinian people.
… At the young age of nine, Kimmie Weeks came face to face with civil war, human suffering, and death. He can still vividly recall eating roots and wild leaves when his family did not have access to food, drinking infested water, and nearly being buried alive after epidemics had wrecked his emaciated body. Over the years, Weeks has formed partnerships and led organizations that have lobbied the disarmament of over 20,000 child soldiers, provided education to over 1 million students in West Africa, health care and recreation supplies to children. When the Liberian government attempted to assassinate him for a report he had issued on its involvement in the training of child soldiers, Kimmie was forced to flee Liberia at the age of seventeen.
… Hafsat Abiola, Nigeria, Founder of Kudirat Initiative for Democracy. Her father, elected president, died in jail. Her mother got killed for civil engagement. Hafsat is now working towards one goal : the empowerment of one billion young women worldwide.
“In Nigeria, the hopes of millions have been pinned on me. Everything I do is under the spotlight. If they want to sell papers, they put me on the cover. If they want to gain popular support in an election, they ask for my endorsement. Where does someone like me go when we need a safe place to be and learn? To renew, deepen the foundation of our work, and sharpen our focus? To share experiences, lessons and build relationships with others that can advance our thinking, approach and capacity? We go to the YES! Jam, which gives us all that and so much more.”
‘ Instead of asking ‘Can Young People Change the World?’
‘we should ask ‘Can the World Do Without them?’
Yes! Jams help share and release passions, pains and feelings, find comfort, support and hope. Whereas they appear strong and inspiring, activists do experience pain and doubt, and this is no weakness. It is natural, and their courage lies in daring to face the winds. The challenge in activism is how to carry the burden, how to release stress, suffering, doubts and fears.
“As an activist we focus so much on healing the pain and conflict around us that we never get a chance to heal the pain inside our own lives, to grow as individuals with integrity and strength of spirit with healthy bodies full of energy to dedicate to our work. Thank you YES! for a wonderful time. My heart has opened to the possibility of a place for spirit in my work. This camp through me will reach hundreds of young people.” —Karun Koernig, 25, Manager, Environmental Youth Alliance, Vancouver, Canada
Traditional cultures have their ways and methods of dealing with this – healing rituals, dance, meditation, talking circles… and everything in community. Community is what Yes Jams offer, and the organisers put a lot of emphasis on spirituality and healing. The strong spiritual inclination of many activists naturally brings in elements of love and compassion that help strengthen each other.
“This experience humanized the stories I’d previously heard only through the news. I now recognize that the world and the people working to make our communities healthy and sustainable are not so distant. The Jammers have truly inspired me. Their determination, passion, strength and struggles have and will continue to impact my work as an indigenous activist. It has been a fantastic environment in which to grow and open a new scope of reality in my work and my life.” — Cathy Rexford, 24, Alaska Native Education Program, Future Alaska Native Educator Network, & Iñuit Circumpolar Youth Conference, Alaska, USA
“Unleashing all that we have, and all that we are, on behalf of all that we love.”
/es! has changed the image of youth activists as being serious, angry, shut down and complaining. Witnessing these brilliant, courageous young people shows that there is something fundamentally wrong in the depiction and understanding of youth and young people, coined by adults driven by an addiction to control and dominance, clinging to a stable status quo, no matter how much suffering it creates, almost void of compassion. Instead, if we shift to the view that the very nature of youth lies in the emotional perception of imperfect things in the world, and working on transforming them towards perfection, we can understand that, in its essence, youth is a driving force incorporating the guiding principle of evolution.
“I am trying to help us change our definition of growing up, so that it ceases to mean giving up on our ideals, and comes to mean learning how to live our dreams, every day, on the Earth. I want to awaken the passion and creativity of youth, combine it with the wisdom, experience and insight of elders, and transform our world.” Ocean Robbins, Yes! founder
Since then, the ever-vibrant circle of people in and around Yes! has been on a learning journey following the ideals of creating meaningful relationships for true social change, operating internally on principles of collective leadership, and exploring deeper global partnerships that honor local wisdom. Their three program areas are Global Leadership Jams, Leveraging Privilege for Social Change, and Supporting Aligned Movements. Their work is at the meeting point of internal, interpersonal, and systemic transformation.
YES! Jam : ‘Leveraging Priviledge for Social Change’
“What does priviledge mean to you?”
There is much to learn about this from YesJammers in the video. Yes! looks at priviledged people not only in wealth, but also fame, publicity and power. In time and liberty to commit to causes beyond mere survival.
“I knew that rich people have issues, I knew they have problems. But I had never been in a space where I was able to hear those. The next day when I walked in the room, I felt that these people are actually peers now, they are friends. When I walked into this room, I felt that I was walking in in a new power, a new sense of myself and being able to be firm in who I was. And I know through that experience, knowing about those fears that were hidden inside me, is going to help me in my work, because I can now look at people I could not identify with before in a new way.” Monica Simpson Ujamaa Coordinator, Grassroot Leadership
Yes! is building a very important bridge in connecting the priviledged people – with the luxury of education, resources and time to commit to causes of positive change – with the activists facing poverty and the physical threats of the streets. There are many basic things to learn. For example, that many affluent people suffer from grave personal and emotional deprivation despite wealth, apparently intact families and newspaper smiles. And that they can have a strong empathy for the struggles of the poor, despite their rich parents or clinging to money and status themselves. The inter-class encounters and alliances formed are one of the most precious steps towards better societies we can imagine. These jams are a great model to follow! It can begin with activist meetings, continue with school partnerships and sharing resources for colaboration on positive change in their neighbourhoods.
Photos: YES! website: www.yesworld.org
Let us bring together Youth Leaders in Europe
There have been Yes! Jams on all continents except Europe! What’s up with Europe? Europe has unique potentials. There is widespread awareness that the status quo is flawed and based on the exploitation of others. Media and education address global problems. Institutions and political parties are established and diverse unlike any other place in the world. Financial means and social wealth are comparatively outstanding.
Still, Western Europe seems to be a particularly difficult field for youth and change. Everything seems rigid and finished. Administration and organisations are already in charge of almost everything – theoretically. There are many young people who excel in discussing matters, – pretty much like the older people around. But – where are the movers? Where is an enthusiast spirit of community and a cheerful drive for change?
Does Europe lack some vital ingredients, like entrepreneurial drive, spiritual strength and vision, passion, enthusiasm, and in particular: the outgoing nature of heartful communication and community-building we witness in Latin America?
But can the world do without Europe? One may tend to think so, since many innovations are now flourishing in “developing countries”. Well… they actually do develop! But we feel Europe’s potentials should flourish, as well! There has to be a new generation of change-makers growing there, too! Will you help us find them? Are you one of them?
We are seeking youth leaders of Yes!’ inspirational kind in Europe! If you feel family with Yes!, if you know young people around you that are changing the world, please tell us about them. We would like to get to know them, publish their stories, support them, and – let us organise a European Jam together! It’s about time, and we have good chances to find opportunities for this in Berlin, London, or Sweden, for example.
Heroes, nobility and upgrading oneself
To round off this article, let’s take a step back and put Yes! into perspective. In the past years, there has been an inflation of declaring “Green Heroes” in various mainstream media. Including some characters in power positions that have a rather dark and nasty record.
We believe that getting to know the people present at Yes! Jam gatherings sets the standard straight what kind of people truly embody the noble spirit behind the word ‘Hero’.
These people are like any of us. Some experience made them decide to put all their heart and ingenuity into causes for the well-being of others. They dare live their convictions, born from suffering, compassion, anger or outrage and transform it into action. In constructive action, not destructive violence and complaints. Their ways and the respect they receive demonstrate that their positive approach is a promising way to receiving empathy, allies and support – within the mainstream, and from institutions. And different from many angry revolutionaries these youth leaders truly walk their talk, they live the ‘better ways’.
”While the Jammers’ work to help other people is beautiful, what I really admire is their hearts and spirits. These people are humane, loving, fragile and brave at the same time. I believe this very love for yourself, your loved ones, for the earth are what provides us with a clear vision of how to live radically and healthfully in relations with others and with the earth. Those reflections really help me right now because I am making a lot of decisions that that the Jam has given me the courage to do.” Lan Anh Thi Ha, 21, President, YOJO/Street Voices, Hanoi, Vietnam
* Nancy Reagan : wife to Ronald Reagan, a western B-movie Hollywood actor turned US President pushing the nuclear arms race in the Cold War against the Soviet Union, which he called “the Empire of Evil”. If you think there’s something crazy about this, view ‘The Power of Nightmares’, the acclaimed 3-part series by BBC about the big picture behind terrorism; you will find striking parallels between the Reagan and the Bush era. The BBC documentary picks up the B-movie line of Gil Scott Heron – famous for ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’.