Young Women’s Voices for Climate
Young Women’s Voices for Climate is a group middle, high school and university-aged women in Boulder, Colorado that uses performance-based methods to speak out and act up for a stable climate. It is brought together by a partnership between SPEAK co-founders (Beth Osnes and Chelsea Hackett), an initiative for young women’s vocal empowerment for civic engagement, and CU’s Inside the Greenhouse, which focuses on creative climate communication. Our mission is to advance climate awareness and action through artistic expression. This group has significantly contributed to bringing performative delight, youth perspectives, and actionable solutions to community climate events. We are sustained and nourished in this work through the positivity of play experienced and expressed through performance. Our approach to applied performance has brought us increased connection to the natural world, to each other, and to our community.
Check out our latest Online
Exhibit, Recipes for Change
Scrole down all the way on the
site to the Recipes for Change
Song featuring lyrics such as:
“You want some veggie power?
Then eat your cauliflower.”
“Plant-based diet recipes
promote a fertile legacy.”
“Recipes for change, yeah…”
“Recipes for change.”
Our first public-facing event in 2018 was at a talk at CU’s Sustainability, Energy, and Environment Complex by the Swedish psychologist Dr. Maria Ojala, who specializes in youth, hope, and climate change. Our group was invited to perform. The young women chose to do their own take on the song “What’s Climate Got to Do with It?” based on Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to do with It?” The chorus was rewritten as “What’s climate got to do, got to do with it? What’s climate but a long-term view of weather? What’s climate got to do with it, got to do with it? Conditions prevailing for over a long time.” Starting with singing and dancing together aided in claiming the space and fortifying their voices for what followed: individual minute-long declarations by each young woman about her perspective on the climate crisis.
Over the summer of 2019, Young Women’s Voices for Climate was invited to perform for a Boulder City Council meeting by Boulder’s senior environmental planners to convey their perspective on why the council should approve the request to revise our city’s climate action plan. The young women met with the staff at the city environmental planning office to discuss the reasons why a revision to our current plan was needed. Seated around the conference table with the staff, they shared their views, asked questions, and discussed their five-minute portion of the presentation for the city council. In the council chambers, their performance provided a rare fun occurance that was greeted by smiles and encouraging applause by the city leaders. They performed their own version of “Wind Turbines are Beautiful” (set to the Lion King’s song, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?”) with two of them costumed as wind turbines. After the song, each young woman relayed a particular issue related to climate change to which they felt personally connected, such as recycling, girl’s education, access to family planning, and environmental education.
YWVC was invited by Boulder environmental planners to perform at the Boulder City sponsored Climate Mobilization Action Plan Launch event on September 26th. With over two hundred people in attendance, they performed their run down of the top five Drawdown solutions. To dramatize number five, Tropical Forests, they enacted a skit and a song created by group members Ting and Uli, featuring one young woman costumed as an old-growth tree who recoils in terror when she notices an explorer in her forest. The explorer tries to defend herself as a non-destructive human. The tree accuses her of clearing the forest to raise cattle, to which she retorts that she is a vegetarian. The tree accuses her of clearing the forest to make furniture, to which she retorts that she only buys repurposed furniture. The tree accuses her of wiping her butt, to which she admits that she does actually wipe her butt many times a day after using the toilet. The tree then suggests she recycle her toilet paper, to which the explorer responds, “That’s disgusting.” The tree responds, “No, buy recycled toilet paper.” At this, two costumed rolls of recycled toilet paper enter along with the rest of the ensemble to join the tree and the explorer in performing a spirited song and dance featuring the chorus “Recycled toilet paper, make sure you buy, Recycled toilet paper, make sure you buy, take from the roll to the tush and then you flush, bye bye.”
In November of 2019 at the Old Main theatre at CU, our group produced our first free-standing event-- Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA), a worldwide series of readings and performances of short climate change plays presented biennially to coincide with the United Nations Conference of the Parties, or COP, that took place in 2019 in Madrid. At our performance, they performed two short plays focused on gender and climate change, led attendees in a creative process of their own expression on various climate-related issues, and received advice on how to use their empowered voices from eight female Boulder leaders, including the mayor. The plays they performed were The Butterfly That Persisted by Jordanian playwright, Lana Nasser and It Starts With Me by Canadian playwright Chatal Bilodeau.
The primary facilitators for this group are CU Associate Professor of Theatre & Environmental Studies, Beth Osnes, co-founder of both Inside the Greenhouse and SPEAK, and Chelsea Hackett, recent PhD graduate of New York University and co-founder and director of SPEAK. For over six years, Chelsea and Beth have been developing the use of performance-based methods to support young Guatemalan women in empowering their voices for civic participation in partnership with a female Maya-run Guatemalan organization and school, MAIA Impact. This collaborative work culminated in the creation of a twelve-session curriculum for young women that introduces this approach. The article “Vocal Empowerment Curriculum for young Maya Guatemalan women” by Beth and Chelsea, along with co-authors Jen Lewon, Norma Baján (director of MAIA Impact), and Christine Brennan, explains how the SPEAK approach combines vocal training and theatrical methods to support young women in empowering their voices for self and civic advocacy (Osnes et al., 2019b). Chelsea and Beth continue to work closely with MAIA to create vocal empowerment curricula for each of the subsequent five grades of their school. This introductory curriculum has been implemented in Guatemala and Tanzania by local community leaders trained by Beth and Chelsea, in Egypt directly by Sarah, and in Boulder directly by all three of us (with Lianna and Jeneé) as a weekly afterschool offering for a group of nine young women from a middle and high school near CU. After completing the initial curriculum the fall of 2017, the Boulder group expressed the desire to keep meeting together towards vocal empowerment with a specific focus on climate change, referring to themselves as Young Women’s Voices for Climate (YWVC). They began to form an identity as a local source of positive creative energy in Boulder City’s ambitious work on its climate action plan.
Our target community for SPEAK is anyone who identifies as a young woman, whether assigned female at birth or not. This group focuses on women because of the injustice and inequity still experienced by those identifying as women and the need to counter the absence of women’s voices contributing to so many sectors of our lives, policies, and culture. There is a strong tie between challenges faced by women and challenges associated with the issue of climate change, steming from the same patriarchal domination and exploitation that has presided over women and the natural enviornement. In many parts of the world, women experience climate change with disproportionate severity largely because of gender inequality and lack of voice.
The target community for the performance-based experiences by these young Boulder women is most directly their own city, Boulder, but they regularly add their voices to women’s rights and climate-related actions at the national and international level. For example, they contributed to the Girls Bill of Rights campaign by She’s the First, wrote personalized messages to encourage citizens to vote through Vote Forward, and contributed public comments opposing a national proposal for roads to be built through Alaska’s national forests, which would disrupt the lives of nearby Indigenous communities. Adding our voices to others’ campaigns helps us understand the scope of this issue and the multiple creative ways in which voices can be joined to impact change.