From gun violence to climate change, youth activists have launched social justice movements in recent years in response to worries about the nation’s future.
One enterprising individual continuing that trend is Jonah Gottlieb, a 17-year-old resident of Petaluma, Calif., who is trying to direct the attention of 2020 presidential candidates to youth issues.
Gottlieb will moderate the Children and Youth Presidential Forum, which is planned for September 15 at American University in Washington, D.C. Hosted by the National Children’s Campaign, the forum has invited all of the 2020 candidates, including those from the Democratic, Republican and independent parties. Youth ages 6 to 22 will be given the chance to ask candidates questions on a variety of policy areas, including health, education, safety, economic, gun control, immigration and climate issues.
This isn’t Gottlieb’s first foray into politics. He currently serves as the executive director of the National Children’s Campaign, a national nonprofit dedicated to the promotion of youth and generational issues to members of Congress. Gottlieb is co-director of Schools for Climate Action, an effort to focus on environmental issues that was created after the devastating 2017 wildfires in Northern California. And Gottlieb helped found Global Awareness, a Petaluma education campaign that seeks to inform youth about the political system as well as advancing climate-focused policy in the community, “from eco-friendly buses to curriculum that teaches about climate change,” Gottlieb said.
Gottlieb said his attraction to politics was a natural calling. In the second grade, he wrote his first paper on a political figure: Barack Obama. In eighth grade, Gottlieb worked on a project following the campaign of 2016 Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley, and soon after, he was drawn into the fight against global climate change and gun violence prevention.
Gottlieb said he believes that the more than 74 million youth in America hold the most power when it comes to moving actions in Congress.
“One meeting with a teen or child sways more Congressman more than 10 meetings with staffers from another opposing party,” he said.
Gottlieb has been highly critical of Congress and its — in his view — inaction on the issue of climate change.
“I just don’t know how politicians can claim to act in the interests of children with the current actions of Congress,” he said.
In September, the floor will be open for questions on all subjects, but Gottlieb said he hopes attendees will really dig into the climate and the environment.
“It doesn’t make sense to discuss healthcare when people don’t even have clean water or air, or homelessness when the effects of climate change will leave millions more without a home,” Gottlieb said. “People that are living paycheck to paycheck will be in trouble when the economic effects of climate change begin to start hurting the economy.”