Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, one of the students suing the government over climate change, says everyone can do something to stick up for Planet Earth

By Griffin Baumberger

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, 17, wants to inspire others to activism

Environmental activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez has addressed the United Nations, shared a stage with President Barack Obama and recently became a published author. He’s also about to release a hip-hop record. And he’s only 17.

Xiuhtezcatl (pronounced “Shoe-Tez-Caht”) is among 21 youth activists suing the Trump administration over climate change, arguing that refusal to halt environmental degradation fails to protect resources in the public trust and violates the constitutional rights of young people. On March 7, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a government appeal to quash the case.

In February, Xiuhtezcatl joined a panel of youth activists at Patagonia Santa Monica to announce the launch of Patagonia Action Works, an online platform that connects users to environmental activism campaigns in their immediate community. The idea is to both create more activists and increase the capacity of existing organizations that receive grant funding through the Ventura-based sustainable clothing company. Locally, these include Heal the Bay, TreePeople, Los Angeles Waterkeeper, The Bay Foundation, the Surfrider Foundation and 5 Gyres.

Xiuhtezcatl is youth director for Earth Guardians, also supported by Patagonia.

“They are building infrastructure for activists and communities and regular people to connect and build towards really positive change,” he says of Action Works.

While as many as 200 local activists in attendance pulled out their cell phones to explore the new website, Xiuhtezcatl and local hip-hop artist Tru performed songs appealing for a more passionate approach to environmentalism. Xiuhtezcatl, who grew up in Colorado and is of Aztec heritage, sang some of his own lyrics in English and Spanish.


What’s going on with the lawsuit?

So, myself and 20 other youth are suing the United States government for violating our constitutional rights to life, liberty and property for failing to adequately address climate change. The Trump administration has pulled out some ancient legal procedures to make it so that our case, our hearing, our trial, which was approved by several different federal judges, has been postponed to later this summer. They’ve made it a slower process, but we’re hoping to continue to prevail both at the local level and the big federal one. We’re hoping to get some big wins for the climate.

How did it initially come together?

We have been working with an organization called “Our Children’s Trust” who came up with the idea of using the public trust doctrine which was written into the constitution as a form of fighting for climate justice. To have a healthy and stable climate is written into our Constitution, and young people should be the voices and the faces that are acting upon that.


You say there’s a need for people who don’t necessarily define themselves as activists to join the movement. What should they be doing?

If we look at the state of our climate, that’s a really huge issue which needs policy change. But we also need to take action in our daily lives. Three meals a day represent three different choices we can make either for or against our future. The meat and dairy industries are among the most destructive to our climate. If you’re eating fast food every day, that’s not good for your body and it’s not good for the planet.

The most important thing to do for any individual, anywhere, is to recognize the power that your voice has. Once you realize that you have power, you can act on it. This starts in your own community. I can’t tell you what’s going on in your community, but you can have an infinite amount of information and resources at your fingertips. So make sure to get educated and empowered in your local community, in your family,
in your world.


When did you realize you had power?

When I saw my voice ignored. For most of my life the people around me had been incredibly supportive, but all of a sudden when I went places, people wouldn’t listen. For example, when I went and spoke at the United Nations, it was a really pivotal moment for my career and my life, but the actual politicians in the room didn’t listen. This didn’t matter to them. I realized that [activism] is more than just “reaching important people,” this is about the communities and the bottom of the movement. I decided to push on all planes — not just speaking to the press or politicians, but speaking to all people in all communities.


How do you speak to people your age and encourage them to join the movement?

What I would say to people around my age who want to be involved is to find your avenue. For me, a big avenue of mine is music. Arts throughout history have had such a monumental impact on policy, through storytelling and representing voices of marginalized communities. We have to be creative in how we reach out to people.


Do you think stories might have more impact than arguments, charts and data?

I think storytelling is an absolutely critical piece, and I think we have to balance it. We need to know what we are talking about in regards to science, statistics and facts in order to tell our stories. But I think the storytelling piece has been largely left behind in the greater conversation of the bureaucracy of climate change.


How do activists for the planet sustain themselves?

Drink a glass of water, meditate, stay grounded. The most important thing for me has been to connect with other people who are on a similar path. I’m not saying to surround yourself with people who agree with you about everything; you should surround yourself with people who challenge you. But I think it’s really important to build community, because doing this alone is not what it’s about. I’ve been alone before, and it feels disempowering. When you engage with other people who are on the same wavelength, your impact is multiplied as well. This is bigger than all of us. Surround yourself with good people, and take time to remember what we are fighting for.

Visit xiuhtezcatl.com for more information about Martinez’s music and writing. Browse environmental activism opportunities at patagonia.com/actionworks.