Panelists from five environmental activist groups discussed the progress and state of the climate change movement at the 17th annual Mario Savio Memorial Lecture on Tuesday.
Although one lecturer usually speaks at the event, multiple panelists were invited to speak this year to capture the complexity of the climate change movement. Panelists discussed a variety of topics, including fossil fuel divestment, the Keystone XL Pipeline and extreme weather events, such as the recent typhoon in the Philippines.
“There’s a difference between all of the organizations represented on the panel,” said Gopal Dayaneni of the Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project, who spoke on and moderated the panel. “We don’t all have the same politics or approach, but it’s important that we’re all engaged in a conversation so that people can expand their imagination of what the social movement can and should be.”
Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, and Phil Radford, executive director of Greenpeace, spoke to the importance of viewing the progress of the climate change movement, which is usually depicted bleakly in the media, more positively. Panelists also included May Boeve, executive director and co-founder of 350.org, and Sharon Lungo, co-director of the Ruckus Society.
“One of the things that limits us as a movement is that we don’t realize how powerful we are,” Brune said. “Sometimes we put out Exxon Mobil or Chevron or the Koch brothers as being these all-powerful entities, and we don’t realize how powerful we are ourselves.”
The lecture, which was held at Wheeler Auditorium, also included the presentation of the Mario Savio Young Activist Award — which recognizes young people engaged in building a more humane and just society — to 23-year-old Richmond native Melvin Willis.
According to Lynne Hollander Savio, chair of the board of directors that presented the award, Willis was selected for his work in tackling community issues ranging from home foreclosures to the proposal of a soda tax.
“Whether it’s going against the banks, going against Chevron or going against anybody trying to take advantage of the city of Richmond, I’m going to be there and fight because I don’t want to see my community suffer,” Willis said upon receiving the award.
The lecture was established after the death of Mario Savio, the leading activist for the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley in 1964, and has hosted lecturers such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in 2008 and campus professor of public policy Robert Reich in 2011.
Previous recipients of the award, which was first given in 1998, include Jim Keady, director of Education for Justice Inc., and Reyna Wences and Rigoberto Padilla of the Immigrant Youth Justice League.