With Earth Day Live, Young Activists Pivot to Digital Social Movement Building

April 22, 2020

How a diverse group of young changemakers is reimagining urgent social movements in the face of a pandemic.

In early March, as the novel coronavirus forged its destructive path across the United States, shuttering businesses and community centers and halting events, a group of young changemakers held a conference call.

They—the young leaders behind the 2019 Climate Strikes and their organizational allies—had been working on a large-scale activation for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Local marches, activations and events in cities and towns around the country would build on the success of the Climate Strikes and call on businesses and policymakers to take action on climate change.

Suddenly, they had to pivot.

“On March 12, we had an all-coalition call with Climate Strike partners and youth organizers from across the country,” according to Katie Eder, Executive Director of the Future Coalition, the umbrella group behind the Climate Strike movement (and whose members include the Sunrise Movement, Zero Hour, the International Indigenous Youth Council, and Youth Climate Strike.)

“At the start of call, we had everyone take a deep breath together to ground ourselves in the reality of what was happening in the world and what we were being tasked with in continuing on with Earth Day,” said Eder.

The coalition quickly decided to shift to an all-digital approach, and to do so without losing the focus on community—and on creative ways to get the message across.

It worked. More than 600 organizations came together with musicians, scientists, businesses, artists and activists to map 72 hours of compelling live content for the three-day Earth Day Live activation.

By mid-day on April 22, just four hours in, the livestream had already logged more than 100,000 views.

It is a triple-win: The program carries forward the successful 2019 Climate Strikes, integrates urgent issues raised by COVID-19—including environmental racism and disproportionate impacts—and represents a rapid adaptation from on-the-ground to all-digital organizing.

Earth Day Live

An Urgent Call – But Fun

As impressive as pulling off three days of programming in just three weeks is, the Earth Day Live organizers say it is much more than just a livestream.

“I would call this a multimedia online mobilization that we hope is going to transform and reshape the conversations we're having now,” says Dillon Bernard, the Future Coalition’s Communications Director. (Dillon is also SparkAction’s youth engagement strategist.)

“We will have a little fun and we’ll focus on hope at this time, but this is also about action,” he says. “We’re carrying out the momentum of what we started with the Climate Strikes, and what we think the 50th anniversary of Earth Day should be. We have nine years until the climate crisis is irreversible."

“We have nine years until the climate crisis is irreversible."

To make this happen, Dillon and his fellow young adult changemakers held weekly video planning sessions. They launched a Slack channel and a series of “Social Community” peer-led video trainings on organizing in times of crisis, messaging, social media deployment and other skills that the movement members needed.

“For us, it was about both learning and unlearning what you would usually do in an activation that is a youth-led youth-adult partnership. We structured our conversations around, ‘What do you want to see? What do expect? What are the things we're missing in this conversation we've been having?’” Dillon Bernard says.

One area often missing in mainstream coverage of climate movements is the diversity of the coalition. The young leaders behind Climate Strike and Earth Day Live come from all corners of the United States and represent diverse communities and identities.

The media often wants to cover the same voices, so we are making sure we're there hand-in-hand with the people behind this movement. We have black, brown and indigenous youth who are on the front lines of the climate crisis and need to be heard,” says Bernard.

“And we’re not just talking about representation, it’s about really centering young people and indigenous, black and brown leadership in all of the conversations,” he adds.

The organizers hope the digital pivot will ultimately expand the movement by making it easier for new people to get involved. “That’s something we’re thinking a lot about, making sure we're uniting across movements and then making sure the table is ever-expanding,” says Bernard.

“Never before have service workers, politicians, celebrities, and grassroots activists come together in this way. This lineup is showcasing some of the most amazing work of those on the frontlines of the climate and COVID crisis across the country,” Katie Eder wrote in an April 21 email.

The current COVID-19 crisis is proof that tackling climate change, infrastructure and environment equity is more urgent than ever.


Even if we can’t gather in person to show our solidarity, we can activate safely from home. Watch the livestream, join in on social media—and take action on the website, You can also donate to the Youth Climate Action Fund, which supports local youth organizers on the ground.

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