WHEN I WAS 16, Alison Carpenter, Max Faille, Seth Klein and I took a year off school to travel across Canada to speak to other teenagers about nuclear war and what could be done about it. We were members of SAGE, a Montreal disarmament group. We visited over 150 communities from Newfoundland to Victoria, B.C. and spoke with over 120,000 young people in 363 high schools-one Canadian high school in eight. As teenagers speaking to teenagers, our youth gave us credibility with our peers.
Today I am constantly putting into practice something I learned that year. I learned about lobbying, leading, listening, and organizing. I learned to deal with politicians and reporters, opposition and pressure. I learned to be tolerant while remaining sure and determined. I got a real sense of Canada by being billeted with over 100 families. I learned that apathy doesn't stem from lack of concern but instead from a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. I learned that young people must be given more decision-making power because no one can be expected to take on global problems if s/he has never dealt with personal and local ones. And I learned to let my fears empower me rather than overpower me.
Now I suggest another tour, this time on the environment.
ACCORDING to a recent poll by the Southam Environment Project, Canada is on the verge of a green revolution. Profound worry about the environment is radically changing the attitudes of Canadians and could alter the country's political dynamics. The study found, however, that pessimism runs deep in young Canadians: Only 1/4 think the environment will be in better shape in ten years and 2/3 of students say it is unfair to expect them to take care of the mess. But we young people do not have to wait until we are handed the reins of power. Our stake in the future is too great If we don't care, who will?
A national youth tour could cotlaborate with an American tour. I have received a call from Ocean Robbins, a 15-year-old from Santa Cruz, California. She is with a youth group called "Creating Our Future" and they are using the SAGE Tour materials to organize a California tour this spring. In fact, Alison is going down to lead workshops on giving public presentations. They anticipate traveling all over the U.S. starting next fall. Perhaps the Canadian tour could spend a few weeks in the U.S. while they spend time here.
The environment issue is less controversial than disarmament, which will make fundraising and access to schools easier. I doubt that four students could do the tour. Instead, there could be 12 members (one student from each province and each territory) divided up into 3 groups, each traveling a different part of Canada-East, West, and North. The groups could gather at the end for a celebration. This would allow each group to spend more time in each community, with more emphasis on networking and follow-up, a major weakness of the SAGE Tour. It could be called the SAVE Tour-for "Student Action for a Viable Environment." Participants would have the help of the former tour group. We four have been brainstorming. Seth sent me a an outline of what a presentation on the environment might look like; Max has gained experience in fundraising and organizing in the past year as assistant to the Secretary General of Parliamentarians Global Action in New York; and Alison and I could spend time this summer in Canada and the U.S. to bring the two tours together.
We four would not tour ourselves (we're "over the hill": I'm now 20!) but will offer our support. If you are interested, write me. Participants should be confirmed no later than February. A national coordinator is needed. I think that this time next year, the SAVE Tour will be in full swing.
Desiree McGraw, 78 Strathearn N, Montreal West, Que. H4X 1X7
The Paper Crane has launched a national letter-writing contest entitled "Dear Rt. Hon. Prime Minister" for high school students. This offers a chance to practice the critical democratic skill of writing to their government. Letters will be evaluated to understanding the obstacles to peace and for originality, imagination, and effectiveness. Teachers interested in participating should write to The Paper Crane, 555 Bloor Street W., Suite 5 Toronto. They will receive a fact sheet on Canada's role in the arms race and guide on how to write an effective letter to the Prime Minister. A panel of distinguished judges will evaluate the submissions according to two categories-junior and senior. Contact Kelly McDowell at 416/368-9068.