These teens are taking on climate change on a global scale
Teens around the world are protesting for action on climate change. Some of the most prominent young activists doing this work are those involved in the group Zero Hour, which was founded by 17-year-old Jamie Margolin in 2017.
Zero Hour has organized school protests in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Australia in the past five months alone. Margolin, who also serves as the group’s executive director, is currently organizing protests for an International Day of Action on March 15 that aims to make elected officials pay attention to their cause. Margolin told The Fbomb about this protest and why young people must continue to ask politicians to create change.
The FBomb: How and when did you first become aware of the climate change crisis?
Jamie Margolin: I can’t pinpoint the first time I heard about climate change. There was never an “ah-ha moment.” As a young person, I am always asked and expected to plan for my future. “What are you going to be when you grow up?” “What are you going to do with your life?” How am I supposed to plan and care about my future when my leaders aren’t doing the same? They are leaving my generation and all future generations with a planet that is inhospitable and impossible to sustain civilization.
So first, existential dread drew me to this issue, but gradually I began to realize how climate justice is the key to all justice. Correctly solving climate change means dismantling all the systems of oppression that caused it in the first place. It’s not a matter of choosing between, say, Black Lives Matter or Climate Justice. Climate Justice is Black Lives Matter. For example, 69 percent of coal plants are built in POC communities. Tens of thousands of people die from air pollution alone each year in the United States, and the majority of those people are people of color. That’s not a coincidence.
How did that knowledge lead you to create Zero Hour?
I had a vision of youth all over the U.S. and the world marching for urgent climate action since the first Women’s March back in January of 2017. At that time, however, I was still fresh to the community organizing world and was nervous to take on the enormous task of starting a mass movement. So, I suppressed that vision and continued to do local environmental organizing.
Then, during the summer of 2017, I was at a month-long political speech and communication course for high schoolers at Princeton University. It was the first time I had spent such a long time away from my family. I was on the other side of the country, surrounded by politically engaged high schoolers. That summer there was also natural disaster after natural disaster and thick smog that covered Seattle thanks to stronger-than-usual wildfires up north in Canada. That was when I finally decided to take the plunge.
By that time, I had had a ton of community organizing experience. I had social media friends, like Nadia Nazar, who was also willing to take the plunge. Madeline Tew and Zanagee Artis, who were friends from Princeton camp, also joined and are now two core team leads. For a while, we did tons of visioning and brainstorming, struggling to find our footing. Soon we brought on some adult mentors and we reached out to frontline communities who we knew had to be at the center of the movement, like some of the youth from the Standing Rock tribe who famously let the #NODAPL fight. They were super excited by the idea, and some of the youth, like Tokata Iron Eyes and Danny Grassrope, ended up speaking at the Youth Climate March in Washington, D.C., on July 21, 2018.
Since then we’ve organized many actions, lobby days, protests, and have expanded into a full-fledged organization. We are not a movement that happened overnight at all. It took grueling hours and hours every day of slow but gradual movement building, and it still does.
What does Zero Hour do now?
Zero Hour is a movement that centers the voices of diverse youth in the conversation around climate and environmental justice. We are a youth-led movement creating entry points, training, and resources for new young activists and organizers (and adults who support our vision) who want to take concrete action around climate change. Together, we are a movement of unstoppable youth organizing to protect our rights and access to the natural resources and a clean, safe, and healthy environment that will ensure a livable future where we not just survive, but flourish. As an organization, we organize mobilizations, events, and campaigns that work to change the national narrative on climate change and make the world and leaders listen to youth on this issue.
We’re called Zero Hour because #ThisIsZeroHour to act on climate change. We are not a happy-go-lucky group of kids holding up signs — we mean business and are sounding the emergency alarm on the climate crisis.
How have you found that people from different cultures and/or nationalities view climate change differently than Americans (if they do/if you've found this)?
People in the global south and people from island nations and other nations on the frontlines of the climate crisis view climate change very differently than Americans. Americans tend to put it off as something far off and not tangible. But people in the global south are already feeling the devastating effects of climate change as we speak, so they are talking about this issue as a pressing current threat to their national security.
Your generation has more access to information and more tools to organize around causes than any other before you. In what ways have you used these tools and how do you think they've benefited your work (if they have)?
Social media has really been the key to the success of the youth climate movement and it is how it has been able to grow so quickly. We have used social media to communicate with each other over long distances, mobilize, and spread the word about actions. We use social media as a megaphone to project our message to the world.
Of the many people in positions of power to help act on climate change, who do you think are among the most important? How do you think it will be possible to get them to act?
I think the most important in the United States right now is both the Congress and Senate. Also, state legislatures and governorships. Those legislative bodies have the power to pass policy that could turn the tides on the climate crisis. I think continued lobbying, protesting, and pressure will get them to act, but, more than anything, voting will get them to act. Citizens need to turn out to the polls in massive numbers and vote out anyone who isn’t a climate champion, and that would put pressure on the people remaining in office to be a climate champion, or else lose their jobs.
Who are some of your role models when it comes to climate change activism — both well-known and perhaps more under the radar?
A well-known role model in climate activism of mine is Greta Thunberg. Even though she started her strike for climate change long after I started Zero Hour, her no-nonsense way of cutting through the bullshit and just getting right to the point has really inspired me to be more direct in my action.
Some not-so-well-known role models of mine, but my very biggest inspirations of all, who inspired me to start Zero Hour in the first place, are Tokata Iron Eyes and Jasilyn Charger. They are two indigenous water protectors who worked to found the Standing Rock #NODAPL movement. The documentary they were in, “Awake, a Dream from Standing Rock,” was one of my inspirations for Zero Hour, and Tokata actually spoke at Zero Hour’s youth climate march in July of 2018. Jasilyn and Tokata are the real climate heroes — they are on the frontlines putting their bodies on the line to protect water and the earth, and they also happen to be really great friends.
What can teens do right now, and in their daily lives, to work toward ending climate change?
Teens in their daily lives can do so much to combat climate change. I am going to skip the personal things like recycling, composting, going vegan or eating less meat, etc., because that has been said a million times before. Yes, of course, take public transit instead of a car and walk instead of drive when you can and use less plastic and all of those things — personal actions are all super important. But on top of that, teens can change the political climate and build solutions in their communities. Zero Hour’s “People’s Platform” outlines things that youth can do in their communities today, without waiting for leaders and politicians.
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