Jayme Montgomery-Baker is the Wisconsin State Director for the League of Young Voters Education Fund. She organizes young voters from the inner city to take part in the civic process. During elections, she runs voter registration, education, and turn out campaigns. The rest of the year she organizes young people around issues relevant to their lives. Recently, green jobs, jobs that focus on environmental and social sustainability, and climate change issues, such as air and water quality, have emerged as top priorities for her organization. "At this time last year, the idea of being a member of the green movement was just starting to be part of my identity, but I wasn't sure if environmental issues were going to resonate with the people I work with in my neighborhood."
"During the leadership development trainings I do with young people from Milwaukee I used to say: We're going to save the world!" says Jayme Montgomery-Baker, who runs a youth empowerment organization based out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. "I believed it when I said it. It was just that Milwaukee was my worldview, so I was really talking about saving Milwaukee." Montgomery-Baker, who was in Copenhagen, Denmark last week for the United Nations (UN) Climate Change Negotiations, said after her experience, she now has a very different view. "Meeting and working with young leaders as part of a global movement last week has made me think of that statement very differently. Together, we quite literally are saving the world, city by city."
Most of the young people Montgomery-Baker works with are facing huge struggles: unsafe streets, high unemployment rate, and over fifty-percent drop out rate for high school students. But, last November, the youngest women on her team, 20 year-old Nisha Martin, spoke up and pitched the group on why green jobs should be their focus. "When I heard Nisha, who has lost three friends to gun violence and is from a neighborhood where gun violence is not uncommon, articulate why green jobs were a key part to solving the climate crisis and the problems people are facing in the hood, I realized that climate change could resonate if we focused on the local aspects and then drew connections to the global issues."
Montgomery-Baker and her team have since founded a city-wide coalition called the Making Milwaukee Green Coalition (MMGC). MMGC's purpose is to build cross-sectional alliances to push for green jobs legislation, lead educational round tables about climate change and green jobs, and encourage sustainable living practices on a neighborhood level.
Montgomery-Baker's intimate knowledge of the work is the reason the League of Young Voters Education Fund invited her to help represent the voice and interest of young Americans from low-income communities and communities of color at the UN Climate Change Negotiations Conference in Copenhagen. "My husband and I have a new baby and tons going on at work but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to have an international stage where I could share the work and struggles of my community and build bridges with young leaders from all over the world."
In Copenhagen, the high security and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) accreditation process posed to be barriers for Montgomery-Baker to formally participate in the UN proceedings. Instead, Montgomery-Baker participated in several round tables with young leaders from around the world, attended various demonstrations, and spent much of her time huddled in the Fresh Air Center, a bloggers' hub, where the negotiations were streaming live and where she was blogging for constituents back home.
"This experience was incredibly eye opening for me. It is an important part of my own leadership process to really understand, first hand, how dire the situation is around the world. For many people I met last week, climate change is an issue of survival." says Montgomery-Baker. "It's an issue of survival for the folks back home too, it just looks different. For people back home, it is about being able to feel safe walking out of your front door in the morning and being able to put food on the table. For the people of East Timor or the Maldives Islands, it's ensuring that we quickly stop the ocean from overtaking their land and help change the elements that are causing flooding and washing out their crops."
Montgomery-Baker believes that the development of a green economy that both transforms our local economies and helps end global warming is the key to making the issue of climate change relevant to everyone. "People need to see how climate change affects their life directly and how by participating in the fight you can create something positive for yourself, not just the doom and gloom story."
When Montgomery-Baker goes back to Milwaukee later this week, she is going home with a greater understanding of the urgency of climate change and the energy it will take to influence the political debate. She also knows that when she's back in Milwaukee, she will not be alone in trying to solve the problem. Armed with her new connections to the global youth climate movement and her freshly formed friendships with climate leaders from around the world, Montgomery-Baker knows that when she is working to pass local green jobs legislation and educating her community on climate change, she is also helping her allies in Asia, Africa, and on every continent to lessen the effects already being felt by climate change.
"In the absence of a strong global treaty being signed here in Copenhagen, we all need to keep doing everything we can in our hometowns, and know that the ripple affects will be felt everywhere," says Montgomery-Baker.