Courage and Gratitude to those who Pursue Justice

By Julia Olson, Executive Director, Our Children's Trust

Courage. The word that comes to mind when I think of Glori Dei Filippone, a 13-year old from Des Moines, Iowa. Along with Kids vs. Global Warming, she petitioned her state's natural resources protection agency to take immediate action on climate change, asking for annual reductions in Iowa's carbon dioxide emissions, to protect the resources of her state.

When the time came for a public hearing on her petition, Glori wanted to testify before the Commission. In a room full of adults, Glori eloquently articulated the science of climate change, the significant impacts her state faces and the scientific solution to rebalance the state of our atmosphere and climate. With dignity and passion, she asked her government trustees to consider their children and future generations when they made their decision.

However, rather than address the substance of her presentation, the Chair of the Commission, a cattle rancher, criticized Glori for her personal choice to reduce her own carbon footprint by becoming a vegetarian and eating locally. Glori spoke of a climate crisis that has wiped out crops in Iowa from flooding and drought, that according to experts will move the corn growing belt to Canada, that ultimately threatens food and water security and the habitability of our nation. But Glori did not react to the Commissioner's narrow focus on how she sustains herself with despair or defeatism; she left empowered because she had made an impact. Courage, in the face of adversity.

Glori has persevered and her case is working its way through the courts. On May 1, 2012, Glori's attorney, Channing Dutton, will file their brief to the Iowa Supreme Court asking the Court to recognize the Public Trust duty of the State to protect Glori's, and other trust beneficiaries' rights to a stable atmosphere and protection of other critical state resources, like water and wildlife. In TRUST Iowa, Glori asks judges to "think about their children or their children's children and about how this decision is going to affect them."

Like Glori, I believe there are judges with the courage that is needed today. It's in the historic DNA of our judiciary.

Judge Elbert Tuttle. Judge John Minor Wisdom. Judge John Robert Brown. Judge Richard Taylor Rives.

These names might not mean much to you. But for two decades beginning in the late 1950s, these four men meant the world to the civil rights movement. Serving on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in the South, in case after case, they enforced the rights of African Americans. As Claude Sitton, former National Editor of the New York Times and civil rights reporter said, "[t]hose who think Martin Luther King desegregated the South don't know Elbert Tuttle and the record of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals." (quoted in Unlikely Heroes by Jack Bass, p. 15). These judges enforced the law by integrating schools and buses, by rejecting unfair voting districting, by mandating reapportionment. They ordered justice and equality. And they did so in communities still deeply entrenched in discrimination. They lost friends. They answered their phones nightly at home to verbal assaults. But they drew the line. They moved our nation forward on its journey to a just society. They never retreated. Courage in the face of adversity.

These judges, during the civil rights era, would never have had the opportunity to issue those historic decisions if young people had not stood up in the face of injustice and discrimination and held their own line against segregation.

I believe in the courage of our youth and the courage of judges to move our nation, once again, to a just society for this generation and the ones to come after us; a society free from the tyranny of fossil fuels and destruction of our natural life-giving systems. We must all be active instruments of justice. In Glori's words, "what can the community do, what can we all do, what can the government do?"

Courage. Thank you, Glori Dei. Thank you, Judges Tuttle, Wisdom, Brown and Rives.