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This Fifth-Grader Raised $200,000 to Clean Up the Gulf Oil Spill by Selling Watercolors

Young people are at the forefront of environmental and social justice action.

(Credit: Yes! Magazine)

1. Olivia Bouler: Painting to rescue birds and restore habitat

Shortly after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Olivia Bouler asked the National Audubon Society how her skill as an artist and her love of birds could be put to use. The fifth grader from Islip, N.Y., created a web page offering her vibrantly colored and lively paintings in exchange for donations.

Five hundred of Bouler’s watercolors of pelicans, warblers, buntings, and other North American birds were claimed within three weeks, and donors eventually contributed $200,000 to restoration efforts.

In the media coverage that followed, Bouler spoke about the importance of small actions in response to big environmental issues like habitat loss and pollution. She sees kids’ ability to focus on one piece at a time as a lesson to adults for whom the overwhelming magnitude of a problem may be an obstacle to taking action.

To spark kids’ interest in nature, Bouler, now in high school, regularly shares her knowledge and enthusiasm for birds and drawing in classrooms, sometimes with the help of her younger brother Jackson, a puppeteer. A traveling exhibit of her artwork and her children’s book, Olivia’s Birds, encourage people to mobilize, one beach or backyard at a time.

2014 0503 kimrey main(Credit: Yes! Magazine)2. Madison Kimrey: Speaking on behalf of future voters

When 12-year-old Madison Kimrey isn’t juggling schoolwork, voice lessons, and drama rehearsals, she’s speaking out to protect voting rights for young people. Recently, her home state of North Carolina passed a restrictive voter ID law that sparked lawsuits from the NAACP and the ACLU, who believe it will dissuade some demographics, including young adults, from voting.

Kimrey sought a meeting with Governor Pat McCrory to discuss her opposition to the law’s elimination of voter pre-registration for teenagers. McCrory ignored her request, calling her a “prop for liberal groups.” Bubbly and quick-witted Kimrey, who writes all her own speeches, replied that Governor McCrory’s response “isn’t the kind of leadership that our state deserves.”

Kimrey is in favor of voter pre-registration for teens because it makes it more likely that young people will cast their first ballot at age 18. She sees her championship of voting rights for teenagers as the latest manifestation of a long tradition: “I am a part of the new generation of suffragettes,” she says. Her work with MoveOn.org’s campaign for a federal voter pre-registration program for teenagers has been recognized with the Youth Ambassador award from Davidson Young Scholars.

2014 0503 xiuhtezcat main(Credit: Yes! Magazine)3. Xiuhtezcatl Martinez: Demanding protection for the atmosphere

Thirteen-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is the youth director of Earth Guardians, a Colorado group that involves young people in fighting climate change. He’s well qualified for the role, having been an environmental activist since the age of six. Martinez’s Aztec first name, pronounced “Shoe-Tez-Caht,” reflects the indigenous ancestry and belief system he sees as the source of his environmentalism. “We were all indigenous at one point,” says Martinez, but “we have forgotten that the Earth gives us all that we need.”

Saddened by the environmental damage caused by hydraulic fracking in his home state of Colorado, Martinez is a plaintiff in lawsuits that seek to hold the state and federal governments accountable for protecting the Earth’s atmosphere. “We’re asking for a six percent carbon reduction annually,” Martinez explained of the federal lawsuit backed by NASA scientist James Hansen, “which could get us back down to 350 parts per million.”

Martinez looks for ways to make environmental activism appealing to young people. Despite the adult responsibilities of his role as a spokesperson, he enjoys being a regular kid in his spare time: playing ninjas, rope swinging into water holes, and writing inspirational rap songs.

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