Avery McRae at VoguePhoto by Kelsey Juliana

Even More Than 15 Minutes of Fame

A Eugene middle schooler suing the U.S. government deals with her newfound political celebrity

The view from the Vogue office was unlike anything I had ever seen. I looked out at the entire city, which was well displayed from the ninth story of the skyscraper. The bustling New York City streets were shining in the light and looked like glitter had been drizzled all over the windows of the buildings.

I am 13 years old, I am an eighth grader attending The Village School, and I live in Eugene. Getting styled for a photo shoot in NYC for one of the largest fashion magazines in the country is not my usual day.

I am not a fashion model. Rather, I am one of the plaintiffs in Juliana vs. U.S., a lawsuit brought in federal court by youths from around the country who believe that we have a right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life.

And this is why I found myself in a photo studio in the big city along with 20 other young plaintiffs in February.

The seven-bedroom Manhattan apartment where we all stayed before heading over to Vogue was very nice. Each room had at least three people staying in it, and in my case, we had six. We found a New York-style bagel shop downstairs. We ate at least six full bags of bagels every morning.

It was crazy staying in the middle of Manhattan.  If I had been 10 minutes late arriving at Vogue for the photo shoot that day, I would have bumped into Daniel Radcliffe, a walking Harry Potter, as one of the other kids did in the elevator.

I was brought back to the styling room first. It was full of hundreds of pairs of shoes, three racks hung with clothes, and many people working around the organized clutter. A young man, probably in his late 30s, called me to a corner and told me to take off my coat.

A woman doing my makeup asked me how I got involved. I told her the story I tell everyone.

“When I was in first grade, I read a book about snow leopards and learned that they were endangered. I was saddened by the feeling of uselessness. So with the help of my parents, I threw a party for them. I invited my friends, asked for donations and in the end raised about $200 for the Snow Leopard Trust. The next two years I did the same thing for wolves and salmon. This was the start of my activism.”

She smiled uneasily, clearly not used to the fact that kids could have feelings about Earth and might care about real problems going on in the world.

I’ll admit it’s crazy. I am a kid from a small Oregon city suing the U.S. government over an issue some say I shouldn’t be worried about. Eugene has supported me through this whole experience, and I could not be happier with the people around me.

That day three years ago when we first walked inside the Wayne Morse Federal Courthouse in Eugene to testify before Judge Thomas Coffin, I was excited and nervous. The smell of cheap coffee and cologne filled the air. Men and women in dark colored suits entered the room ready to go before the almighty judge. I tried to hide my facial expressions, even when the government lawyers said things like, “These kids don’t have the same rights to life, liberty, and property that adults have…”

That one really got to me.

Despite the crazy unbelievable things said in court, we had better arguments, and even at the age of 10, I knew that very well. After the gavel hit the hard wooden desk, announcing that the hearing was over, we all got up and headed outside to see the mob of supporters who came to stand in the rain in solidarity with us 21 youth plaintiffs.

As I walked down the steps of the courthouse, I felt so grateful that I have all the support from the community. At that moment, I realized that I am just an ordinary kid with a not-so-ordinary story to tell.

Growing up in Eugene I had never really understood what lots of money looked like. That all changed after I became a plaintiff.

I was asked to speak at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado. This was one of the most eye-opening experiences I have ever had. The resort, a gondola ride away from the lovely little town of Telluride, was full of big beautiful houses with pools and spas that lined the streets with hotels and little coffee shops that sold a cup of coffee for almost ten bucks.

The tab was being paid for by the film festival, and when I saw the receipt for four nights at our luxury hotel, I was very thankful. In the time I spent there, I began to understand the power of money and privilege.

But back to the Big Apple. At the end of a long day being photographed for the magazine — which came out in April — the other 20 plaintiffs and I headed back to the apartment, where we ate pizza and tried to refuel ourselves so that we could continue to fight for the future of our planet.

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