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  • Itzel Santiago Pastrana

Where Are They Now? Kiran Oomen and the Art of Social Justice

In 2015, when they were a high school senior, Kiran (they/them), joined twenty other youth plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the US Federal government: Juliana v. United States. Represented by the non-profit organization Our Children’s Trust, these young people asserted that government support of industries contributing to fossil-fuel pollution violated their rights to a safe climate. In Kiran’s own words, “climate change is an issue of rights, life, and representation, and it’s up to the people to make that clear.”


Now 23, Kiran resides in Oregon, where they are both an activist and a politically-oriented musician. Last year, in their TEDxYouth Seattle talk, Kiran pointed out that the government was listening, but only to a tiny segment of people, the top 1%: “lawsuits tell the government stories politicians can’t hear and art tells the world stories people can’t just say.” Kiran urged people to continue to send letters, but also to represent themselves in issues like climate change, via grassroots mobilization, mass protests, and/or additional lawsuits. In order to come together on these issues, though, people first need to connect with one another. In the song that accompanied their talk, the verses hit hard as Kiran sang, “we wanted a future, we thought you would, too.”

With everything that 2020 has thrown our way, Kiran continues to be motivated to keep their work going in environmental and racial justice and in music. The two complement each other, as their music plugs into their activism, and vice versa. During the Covid-19 pandemic, they have been working on their song-writing, singing, and instrument playing. In their “Where Are They Now?” Q&A with TEDxYouth Seattle, Kiran speaks to how recent movements towards racial justice are sowing the seeds for the revolution, how, if we take the momentum from today's racial and social justice movements, we can create real change.

In November 2016, District Court Judge Ann Aiken in Oregon ruled that access to “a climate system capable of sustaining human life” was a fundamental right. However, in January 2020, a Ninth Circuit panel reversed Judge Aiken’s ruling and dismissed the case. Attorneys for the youth plaintiffs have appealed the dismissal. Currently the case is being pushed for an en banc review by the court.

To catch Kiran’s full interview with TEDxYouth@Seattle click here.

Also watch Kiran’s 2019 TEDxYouth talk here.

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