We’re not okay with it. We’ll fight back

The faces of young people are the faces of our past, our present and our future; no segment in society can match with the power, idealism, enthusiasm and courage of the young people”, said once Kailash Satyarthi, Indian children’s rights activist and a Nobel peace prize winner.

When we look at 16-year old Jamie Margolin’s bright eyes and impressive scope of work she has done to spread awareness of climate change, we realize how right Satyarthi has been.

Jamie is the founder of This Is Zero Hour. The “Zero Hour” is a youth-led movement which became one of the leading platforms for all young people who feel the need to take concrete action on climate change — before it’s too late. They are young, powerful, and endlessly inspiring.

Their most well-known action is the Zero Hour Youth March, which will take place in Washington D.C. on July 21st. In the midst of doing all the hard work in the face of such a big protest, Jamie was kind enough to answer some questions we had for her. Many of her answers left us standing in awe.

Hi Jamie, thanks for talking to us today. It is always inspiring and touching to see a young person so dedicated to the single most critical issue of today. How did you first engage in climate activism?

When I was 14, I was an intern in the WA state headquarters for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign and did a lot of volunteer training as well as translating for the office because I was the only fluent Spanish speaker there.

After Hillary lost, I wallowed in grief for a bit, and then joined a local environmental organization called Plant for the Planet where I did tons of lobbying, advocacy and work in alliance with local indigenous tribes. I also joined the Washington state Youth vs Government trial by the pro bono law firm “Our Children’s Trust”, where lawyers are helping young people sue the US government over actively making climate change worse and denying our constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Can you tell us how, after that, your movement “This Is Zero Hour” came to be?

I had a vision of youth all over the US and the world marching for urgent climate action since the first Women’s March back in January of 2017. At that time 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, the summer of 2017 happened. That July, I was at a month-long Political Speech and Communication course for high school students at Princeton University. I found myself away from my family for the first time, on the other side of the country, surrounded by politically engaged high schoolers.

By that time I had had a ton of community organizing experience. That was also a summer full of natural disasters, 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.

Picking up courage and taking that plunge yourself is surely challenging, but gathering the core team of people is even more so. How was your team formed?

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.

At first I had a social media friends, like Nadia Nazar, who was also willing to take the plunge with me. My friends from Princeton camp Madeline Tew and Zanagee Artis also joined, and are now the 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, like Mrinalini Chakraborty, a Women’s March co-founder, and Laura Sanders from DC Local Ambassadors who guided us in the right direction.

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 led the #NODAPL fight, who were excited by the idea. Since then, we’ve expanded into a full-fledged organization.

What exactly is the “Hour Zero” as a symbol for you?

Zero Hour means that there is no more time to act on climate change. It’s a means of communicating the urgent emergency that we are in.

Our logo speaks volumes about the symbolic. It was beautifully designed by Nadia Nazar, a 16-year-old co-founder of this movement. If you see any Zero Hour graphics out there, chances are they were all designed by Nadia.

The part of the earth that is greyed out represents the time we have already lost, the habitats and lives that have already been destroyed. The damage that has already been done. The little sliver of orange left represents the time and hope that we have to combat the crisis.

We the youth are the sliver of hope — and This Is Zero Hour to act on climate change. Our leaders need to wake up and realize that we have no more time to act. It is Zero Hour.

You have said something very powerful: “It’s scary to me how it’s become normalized that our world is dying”. In your experience, what impacts this horrifying normalization the most? Are those people’s defence mechanisms at work, or are they heavily manipulated?

It’s both. People are both guarding themselves against the devastation and panic that comes from fully grasping the horrors of the climate crisis, and there is power in the fossil fuel lobby that is manipulating people into normalizing the destruction of our Earth.

Media also have their share of responsibility. Things such as sport and celebrity gossip are still pushed far more than climate news. Clickbaiting is no good excuse because climate news become clickbaits just as easy. In your view, why are most popular media so silent about the crippling effects of climate change?

In my opinion, there are two main reasons that the mainstream media keeps the devastating impacts of climate change away from the spotlight.

First of all, the big agriculture industries, and the fossil fuel industry has an iron grip on our policies, leaders, and society. I also think that climate change is so terrifying and existentially threatening that the media shy away from it as much as possible. It’s super scary to constantly report on how the world is ending and it’s our fault. Not that I’m making excuses for them because they really need to up their game, but that’s my theory.

In that dire media situation, how important is it to expose the truth about climate change via social networks? Do you believe that publicly labelling the official’s actions via social media is important and influential?

Social media is like the media of the people. It’s a way to have your own personal CNN, your own platform. Publicly calling out our leaders actions via social media is extremely important and influential. If the mainstream media won’t cover the thousands of deaths and all of the destruction caused by fossil fuel industries like Exxon, and our leader’s carelessness, then we will. And hopefully, the mainstream media will catch on.

Today’s youth is often accused of being passive, “stuck in front of the screens” and generally uninterested in their surroundings. On the other hand, your movement paints a radically different picture. As both part of the youth, and a youth movement organizer, how do you look at the stereotypes about your generations and the activism that counters them?

I have been an activist long before the Parkland shooting and the #NeverAgain movement that brought youth activism to the front of people’s attention, and I’ve surrounded myself with youth activists. So the stereotype was always false in my mind, but recently it’s been great to see the rest of the world see what I have always seen — youth voice is powerful. Young people see the injustices happening all around us, and we’re not okay with it. We fight back.

Speaking of stereotypes and finger-pointing, some very damaging stereotypes and narratives have been spun around young justice activists, such as the Parkland youth movement you’ve mentioned. We’ve all seen that unfortunate photoshop of Emma González tearing down the U.S. Constitution… How do you feel when adults, who were supposed to protect your generation and secure you a place in this world, suddenly get you down and even falsely accuse you of some vile things?

I just ignore them. I wish I had a more interesting answer, but I’m so busy all the time I don’t even have the luxury of letting them get to me. I’m just out here trying to survive my inbox and workload, and when adults act like babies, I just ignore them. Sure, it makes me feel down and disappointed and a bit resentful, but I simply don’t have the luxury of dwelling on it.

Many climate scientists and activists suffer from “climate trauma” or “climate burnout”.

How has it been for you and your team? Do you ever feel overwhelmed? And how do you combat that burnout?

It has been pretty hard for me and the team. The real question is, when do we not feel overwhelmed? The way we combat those feelings and hopelessness is with the Dory philosophy — “Just keep swimming”. Answer the next email, the next call, finish the next task. One step at a time. We focus on what we can control. That’s how we combat climate burnout. We just take it one step at a time. But it is hard — it’s really hard.

Your big day is coming up. The Zero Hour Youth March will take place on July 21st. What are your hopes and expectations?

Our internal team decided we aren’t going to quantify the success of Zero Hour through numbers of people who turn out. It’s all about the impact we have on the national conversation, the youth we uplift and empower, and the leaders who listen to our voices.

Our hopes are that we instill a national sense of urgency around the climate crisis and bring this issue from the perspective of youth to the public eye.

Prior to Zero Hour, do you have a message for the readers, and for the leaders — young and old?

Yes. Get involved. Climate Change is the defining issue of our time. A new study came out that analysed that the current administration’s environmental policies could lead to about 80 thousand deaths in the United States alone. Climate change and pollution kill. This isn’t about something separate from us. It’s about saving ourselves. This is not an issue to sit out.

This is our last chance to act. When future generations ask you what you did when we had the chance to turn the climate crisis around, you should be able to say you did everything within your power to fight for human change and against climate change.

How can people support and follow your organization?

March and lobby with the young people this summer: http://thisiszerohour.org/the-march/

And donate to support our efforts: http://thisiszerohour.org/donate/

Follow us on your socials: @ThisIsZeroHour

Thank you so much, Jamie. Best of luck with the march.

We Don’t Have Time is a partner to this project and supports it.

Photographer: Matthew Morinski