Coming from a family of activists, some of whom are from the Laguna Pueblo, Jonathon Juarez has always been keenly aware of the importance of environmental stewardship. The 19-year-old caravanned with five generations of his family to assist water protectors at the Dakota Access Pipeline protests in 2016. Three years later, he helped organize several school climate strikes in Albuquerque, which saw hundreds of students walk out of class. In October, he joined Youth United for Climate Crisis Action (YUCCA), a local organization founded by youth activists in Santa Fe and elsewhere in Northern New Mexico and coordinated by nonprofit Earth Care. One of the group’s focuses is pushing for legislative action to address climate change.
This year’s legislative session saw few wins for environmental initiatives. The Green Amendment, which would have allowed voters to decide if the state Constitution should be amended to include environmental rights, and a bill that would’ve banned the storage of high-level nuclear waste in New Mexico died. Was that surprising to you?
Not necessarily. I think that this really speaks to the bigger picture. We’ve been a strong supporter of the Green Amendment in particular, and it’s just very sad to see that it didn’t make it this year. It’s frustrating. We have one of the most progressive state legislatures in the country. We have a Democratic-controlled House, Senate and the governor’s office, so the fact that we can’t see progressive policies around climate passed is really disheartening because if we can’t do it here, what are they going to do in rural, conservative parts of the country that also need to be joining this transition to a green economy and a green future because it affects everybody?
Now that the session is over, what are YUCCA’s top priorities?
First and foremost, we’re going to take, not necessarily a break because we have so much we do outside of session, but we’re definitely, at least on the policy front, going to take a breather. We’ve been talking about this, how we don’t see this process as the only way to achieve the changes that we want to see. So, building relationships with representatives who have proven themselves to be allies and looking at the ways in which we can harness those relationships and actually propose meaningful legislation, but also leaning into the fact that we don’t rely on this legislative process to provide the solutions we need, so looking into other forms of direct action and ways we can still be making a difference.
We’re focused on Santa Fe, but we have, I want to say, three to five steering committee members—the committee makes all the decisions about what the organization does and events and all of that—that are based in Albuquerque, so part of it is building capacity to support, whether we want to have a Santa Fe committee and an Albuquerque committee operating kind of separate from each other but also connected, or if we want to continue what we’ve been doing, operating primarily in Santa Fe but, when things come up in Albuquerque, seeing how we can support.
Looking at climate change and the lack of radical political action in the US thus far to address it, shit feels pretty bleak. How do you keep at this work and stop yourself from falling into doomerism?
The thing that comes to mind for me is, I really lean into my Indigenous identity when I start to think like that and just recognizing, particularly as a Pueblo person, this is where my people have always been—through drought and famine and things that the Spanish were never prepared for, and that’s why the Pueblo Revolt was so successful is because we have the knowledge of these lands and we’ve been able to use that to our benefit to sustain us through times of questionable climate conditions in the past. I fully believe that we still have these Indigenous-based climate solutions that really lean into that wisdom of land-based knowledge systems that have existed in these areas for generations.
That’s primarily what keeps me out of a climate doom mindset but it is definitely hard. Working in policy now is a whole other ball game. YUCCA has been at the forefront of this since 2019, so we’re going on almost three years since our demands—that are less meaningful now because we’ve waited so long—were delivered to the governor’s office.