Graduation from college with sky-high debt and few available jobs. The risk that fracking or oil pipelines will contaminate dwindling water resources. The prospect of environmental catastrophe caused by climate change. Is it so surprising, with this future to look forward to, that young people are escaping into heroin addiction and the overuse of prescription painkillers?
As Woodstock reels from the overdose deaths of several young residents in the past year, the issues of prevention and solution have been discussed in various local forums. “These kids are canaries in the coal mine. The community is in trouble,” said Rachel Marco-Havens, who expressed her views on empowering and listening to young people at several of those meetings. “There are reasons why kids don’t want to return after college and give back to the community. Young people don’t feel their voice matters. If they keep growing up thinking they don’t have a voice in politics, in their community, in their school, where do they begin to see a future?”
One year ago, Marco-Havens co-founded Earth Guardians New York (EGNY), a chapter of a youth-driven environmental organization with headquarters in Boulder, Colorado. She and co-directors Aidan Ferris and Jennifer Zackin will be opening an Office for Productivity and Outreach in Woodstock. Beginning in March, they plan to offer programs to connect young people with artists, musicians, local government agencies, and activist organizations in the Hudson Valley. “The mission of Earth Guardians is to empower youth to use their creativity and self-expression to stand up for their right to a just and sustainable planet,” said Marco-Havens. “Creative expression is the most empowering gift you can give to people. Let’s apply it to the earth.”
Recently elected to the board of directors of Clearwater, Marco-Havens is inspired by Pete Seeger, who used music as a means of forging community, helping to shape the environmental justice movement. She joined the fight against the 2014 proposal from Niagara Bottling, which sought to harvest water from the Cooper Lake reservoir in Woodstock. Working closely with Kingston Citizens and other local groups, said Marco-Havens, “I was blown away by their strategy, to hold elected officials to their directives. I’ve been turned off by picket signs and screaming ‘no’ to power — I’m more attracted to speaking truth to power.” She was also struck by the “strong, young voice” of Ferris, then a student at SUNY Ulster, who participated in the successful campaign to protect Cooper Lake.
Ferris, a Phoenicia resident, asked Marco-Havens to help her create EGNY, along with then 13-year-old Aaron Luborsky. He wanted to set up a screening of the documentary Tapped, as he hoped to organize a ban on plastic bottles at Onteora High School. With the school administration resisting his efforts, he asked for Marco-Havens’ support. “So I had kids coming to me,” she said, “and I thought, let’s make a bigger platform for them to speak from.”
The mother of a teenage son, Marco-Havens is in touch with many local teens and is known for speaking out on their behalf. When EGNY was launched, five or six kids met with her at the Golden Notebook, and later at the Good Life Journal office, to discuss strategy, plan action, and create art projects. The group quickly realized having their own office would make their work more effective. On February 1 of this year, they rented a storefront on Mill Hill Road, next door to Print Express.
Until the intergenerational, all-volunteer organization has obtained its not-for-profit certification, Catskill Mountainkeeper has stepped up as fiscal sponsor so tax-deductible donations may be accepted. A crowdfunding campaign has begun on GoFundMe.com, and between the two initiatives, they are almost halfway to raising the $15,000 needed for the first year’s operating expenses. A musical fundraising event is currently in the planning stage.
This winter, EGNY joins Transition Woodstock, Bioneers, and Woodstock Land Conservancy to co-sponsor a film series on climate-related topics. The screenings at Mountain View Studio are followed by discussions, which often bring forth ideas. Marco-Havens looks forward to future youth-oriented screenings at the new office.
Working toward a sustainable planet involves introducing young people to the activist community already in place in the Hudson Valley. Members of many of those organizations, from Riverkeeper to Esopus Creek Conservancy, are on the advisory board. Ferris and Marco-Havens both work for Earth Guardians central. The office will make them more reachable and efficient as they communicate with the headquarters and with local crew members and prospective participants.
In a community brimming with creative people, leaders are sought for workshops on many topics. “We want to teach songwriting-into-action,” said Marco-Havens. “We’ll work with local songwriters, young and old, who have specific topics to write about, like the pipelines that are threatening our neighborhoods, and we’ll go all the way from writing to recording and performance. We’ll work on finding your purpose and your voice, public speaking, sign painting, t-shirt making, graphic design, filmmaking. Some people don’t think they’re an activist, but they love animals. We’ll have programs for getting out in the woods, touching the ground literally. We’re working with a local permaculture crew and hope to host a garden share in the summer.”
Marco-Havens grew up in Woodstock, then left and returned more than once. Her solution to the challenge of finding meaningful local work in Woodstock was to become an entrepreneur, making a living with skills that include writing, catering, and designing, making, and selling jewelry. “I really would like to share with young people how their creativity can also sustain their lifestyle,” she said. “When you choose to be an effectivist or solutionist, you’re not choosing a lucrative career. We need to build a stronger sharing community — but I also want to help kids build entrepreneurial skills.”
Ferris, as co-director, will help to administer the office and will continue to represent EGNY at public hearings, such as the one she attended last spring about whether to close the Indian Point nuclear power plant. She recalled looking at the long line of speakers from various groups and realizing she wasn’t going to get to speak. “I wanted to highlight the Spectra pipeline that’s planned to go near Indian Point,” she said. “I was the only young person there, and this decision is ultimately going to affect us the most.” Standing up to ask if someone on the list would trade places with her, she was able to address the panel of Nuclear Regulatory Commissioners. She’ll also bring tools from her recent experience demonstrating with Earth Guardians at the Paris climate change conference.
Jen Zackin is an environmental artist who will be in charge of art programming at the office. Sigi Sage Mannino, drawing on two and a half years of teaching at Frost Valley, will oversee environmental education and support program development. “I want to create awareness of our interconnectedness,” said Mannino, who also grew up in Woodstock. “Each action creates or destroys so much, and we are the ones who control our actions. I’ve worked with thousands of young people, and I want to bring what I’ve learned to this community, to make sure we are providing our roots with health and sustenance.”
For more information, or to contribute funding to the Woodstock office of Earth Guardians NY, visit https://www.gofundme.com/EGNYcenter. For larger tax-deductible donations visit https://earthguardiansny.wordpress.com/support-our-mission. Prospective volunteers to help with programming, or young people seeking to participate, may email firstname.lastname@example.org.