The young climate activists shaking things up

Rab Ferguson 5 December 2021

Across the UK, youth climate justice activists made their voices heard during COP26; we spoke to some of those leading the fight

Across the UK and during the recent Climate conference in Glasgow, youth climate justice activists have been speaking up to demand that world leaders make concrete changes to protect the planet.

We had the opportunity to interview two of these young activists in Anita Okunde, the founder and president of Girl Up Manchester, and Emma Greenwood, Youth MP for Bury. In the highlights from their interviews below, they discuss the topics making a big impact on their lives as activists.

The Power of Protest

Anita: "Protests have a large role when looking at change making. All we have to do is look back historically to see that. It isn't something new, though there’s a lot of criticism about it right now. The biggest changes are the women’s right to vote, even men's right to vote if they didn’t have land. That was the Peterloo Massacre, which was a protest. Protest is the most effective way to bring immediate change."

Emma: "At a protest there is a sense of community, and united purpose, and united voice. It gives you energy to carry on with it, when adults are continually not doing the things you are asking them to. It’s good to get that energy and realise that there’s people standing with you, standing for the same thing."

Social Media

Emma: "The biggest challenge during COVID-19 was engagement. When you're constantly pushing things out there, and not getting the response or not hitting the algorithm, it can make you question why you’re doing it. It can be difficult to carry on, because activism isn’t necessarily the most energy-giving thing you can do. It was difficult to keep morale up."

Anita: "One thing people of my generation have is the ability to start from social media, from the comfort of our own homes. Which is important, because my first initial thing was never to go to a strike. I found them big and scary. It was never to go to a protest, that was never what I intended to start with. Being able to start from the comfort of my own home then being able to spread that message was really great, because it gave me flexibility."

Mental Health

Anita: "Eco-anxiety and mental health for young activists are really important to be discussed. I really think that people don’t acknowledge this sometimes. They say, 'Yeah it’s great, these really great activists, they’re really doing their part'. But they forget that they’re children! I shouldn’t be 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, having to ask the government to do their job."

Emma: "What helps is that there’s a network of activists around you fighting for the same thing.  Everyone’s been there, and everyone’s burnt out sometime. They’re great at supporting you if you need it. We’re able to message when we need help, there’s no stigma around mental health in the youth activist community. But we also check in with each other, like saying you’ve been doing loads recently, you might need to take a step back or not come to meetings this weekend. In the end, we can’t fight for the planet if we’re too burnt out to do anything."

Intersectionality

Anita: "The climate sector right now, is the second least diverse sector in all industries. If you look at conservation and restoration projects, we see how they disproportionately impact Indigenous people and people in the global south, in a negative way rather than a positive way that was intended.

That is all just a perpetuation of white privilege and white saviour complex that we see a lot in the climate crisis when looking at solutions. I think that’s why it’s so uncomfortable for white people; when talking about race you have to acknowledge those problematic conservation projects or those problematic climate solutions that don’t involve everyone."

Emma: "It’s important to promote voices from the global south, where the impacts of climate change are being felt right now. So often the opportunities to speak in the media are given to people in a more privileged position in the global north, and it’s about sharing that platform with people in the global south."

Becoming Youth Activists

Emma: "It motivated me after realising adults aren’t going to react to this on their own, so I can’t wait till I’m 18. I saw the youth strike advertised on a Facebook event, and I'd never felt more accepted or like I’m around people like myself. The atmosphere it created was of confidence, acceptance, unity and passion."

Anita: "The climate crisis wasn’t my first type of activism. I must have been 11 when I started. I looked at racial injustice. I was always quite bright, and lucky with that. Seeing how, for my academic level, I was treated compared to some of my white counterparts, and how I felt that was unfair—that was my first stance. Because I was so passionate about that, and I’ve got a big gob, I was able to express myself in a way that a lot of people were scared to.

That was my first taste of change. It was important to me for paving my way to this type of activism because it taught me that hard work pays off, and that you have to shake things up to create change."

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