Jamie: "No one likes to think about the climate crisis. We have to, because our lives depend on it."
Issue IX Cover Feature Interview Empower
Interviewed by Samra Fatima and Bhagyashree Prabhutendolkar
2nd July, 2021
Jamie Sarai Margolin is a 19-year-old Jewish Colombian-American organizer, activist, author, public speaker, and filmmaker. She is co-founder of the international youth climate justice movement called Zero Hour that led the official "Youth Climate Marches" in Washington, DC and 25+ cities around the world during the summer of 2018. Zero Hour has over 200+ chapters worldwide and has been a leading organization in the climate movement. Jamie’s the author of a book called "Youth To Power: Your Voice and How To Use It” which has been translated in many languages and sold all over the world. The book serves as a guide to organizing and activism.
Jamie is also a plaintiff on the Our Children's Trust Youth v. Gov Washington state lawsuit, Aji P. vs. State of Washington, suing the state of Washington for denying her generation their constitutional rights to a livable environment by worsening the climate crisis.
Jamie served as a surrogate for the Bernie Sanders 2020 Presidential Campaign, speaking at several campaign rallies (including the 2020 Tacoma Dome rally to an audience of over 17 thousand people), filming campaign endorsement videos, and doing outreach to get out the vote for Bernie Sanders. She also was one of the youngest Delegates at the 2020 Democratic Convention.
Jamie is also the director, screenwriter, and lead actress in a new web series called ART MAJORS, which is a show about a friend group of LGBTQ+ art students struggling with queer love and breaking into the entertainment industry.
She is also the host of “Lavender You”, a podcast and online community talking about queer arts and media representation.
Jamie is one of Teen Vogue’s “21 Under 21” girls changing the world in 2018, One of People Magazines 25 women changing the world in 2018, Fuse TV’s Latina Trailblazer of 2018, one of The Today Show’s 18 under 18 Groundbreakers of 2019, MTV EMA Generation Change winner of 2019, one of the BBC's 100 most influential women of 2019, and one of GLAAD’s 20 under 20 LGBTQ+ people changing the world. She is on the OUT 100 list of 2020.
What prompted you to take action and strongly work for protection against Climate Change? Do you think it’s the responsibility of every individual to take action on Climate Change?
Jamie: I was born after 9/11, so not only has extensive airport security always been a reality for me & the entirety of Gen-Z but so has the fact that life as we know it is coming to an end thanks to climate change and rapid environmental destruction. 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, and instead 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 they 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. 20 thousand 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.)
What made you start Zero Hour? What does your organization Zero Hour deal with? What are the main objectives of zero hour?
Jamie: In terms of how Zero Hour started… 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. And so I suppressed that vision and continued to do local environmental organizing. Then, the summer of 2017 happened. I was at a month long Political Speech and Communication course at Princeton University for high schoolers in July. 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.
By that time I had had a ton of community organizing experience. That was also a summer full of 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.
I had a social media friends, like Nadia Nazar, who was also willing to take the plunge. Madeline Tew and Zanagee Artis also joined, who were friends from Princeton camp, 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 DC on July 21st, 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.
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) wanting 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. We as an organization 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 are youth that mean business and are sounding the emergency alarm on the climate crisis.
Your book YOUTH TO POWER is an amazing guide for aspiring Young Changemakers. What prompted you to write Youth To Power and what are the difficulties that young people face while taking action on the causes that they are passionate about?
Jamie: People kept asking me the same questions at events, on social media -- everywhere. "What do I do?" "How do I take action?" "How do I become an organizer?" "How do I take action on the issues I care about?" I answered them individually, I am always happy to answer questions. But as I kept getting asked the same thing over and over I realized -- this information needs to be made more widely accessible. When I was 13 and first really wanted to take action on climate change (and honestly some years before then too) I had no idea where to start. YOUTH TO POWER is the book I wished I had when I was first starting to take action. It is my gift to all the folks out there who want to take action but don't know how.
The 1963 Children's March. The 2016 Dakota Access Pipeline protests. March for Our Lives, and School Strike for Climate. What do all these social justice movements have in common?
They were led by passionate, informed, engaged young people.
I have been organizing and protesting since I was fourteen years old. Now the co-leader of a global climate action movement, I know how powerful a young person can be. You don't have to be able to vote or hold positions of power to change the world.
In Youth to Power, I present the essential guide to changemaking, with advice on writing and pitching op-eds, organizing successful events and peaceful protests, time management as a student activist, utilizing social and traditional media to spread a message, and sustaining long-term action. I feature interviews with prominent young activists including Tokata Iron Eyes of the #NoDAPL movement and Nupol Kiazolu of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, who give guidance on handling backlash, keeping your mental health a priority, and how to avoid getting taken advantage of.
I walk readers through every step of what effective, healthy, intersectional activism looks like. Young people have a lot to say, and Youth to Power will give you the tools to raise your voice.
How do you align your career with your passion and your purpose? Do you ever fall short of motivation and resilience? How do you cope up with it and rise again?
Jamie: My career is in film. I am going into my second year of film school at New York University, and I want to be a screenwriter, director, and actress in my career. The reason I picked a career that doesn't on the surface have much to do with the climate crisis, is because I need balance in my life. I can't be thinking about climate change 100% of the time. I need a break, I need passions, I need to create art -- that is how I keep up my motivation. With balance in my life.
How did you take care of your mental health and overcome life’s hurdles in your astounding journey as a young Climate Justice Activist, LGBTQ+ activist, students and a teenager?
Jamie: I go to therapy, I am very open about that. I do my best to pay attention to how I'm feeling, and seek help whenever I feel like I need it. Burnout is something I have experienced a lot, but I have learned to overcome it through leaning how to rest and have fun and balance in my life.
Like every individual on planet earth, people belonging to LGBTQ+ community have also got the right to be whoever they want to be and they shouldn’t be questioned for being themselves. What are your thoughts on this? It is not a secret that I'm a lesbian. The reason I am so open about it is because I want to be the representation I always wished I had. So many people all over the world are not free to be themselves, and that is unacceptable. LGBTQ+ people need and have the right to full equality everywhere in the world. To not be "tolerated" or even just "accepted", but actively loved, encouraged, celebrated, and protected.
What do you think are the most concerning climate issues in the world of today?
Jamie: If action isn’t taken now, what doomsday scenario do you see for our planet? I can't just pick one because the climate crisis is a threat multiplier. What that means is that it makes all other issues going on around it worse. It is intersectional with all other issues, there is no separating climate justice from social justice. I am concerned honestly, about life as we know it coming to an end. This is an existential threat.
You are currently working on the very exciting show ‘ART MAJORS’ We would love to know all and everything about it!
Jamie: ART MAJORS is a TV show made by queer people for queer people. Queer love is messy, beautiful, sad, scary and hilarious. The cast find this out the hard way, but don’t we all? We hope our audience feels more confident in their identities and love lives by seeing themselves in the show.
ART MAJORS is the story of Ximena, Laylah, and Frankie, three queer film stduents determined to take the movie and television industry by storm. But when they all get their hearts broken on the same day, big-screen success is the last thing they can focus on. Having hit a romantic rock-bottom, the three friends pledge to officially give up on love and chasing after girls who don't love them back, and just buckle down and focus on their careers. But things get complicated as romantic sparks fly in the most unexpected places and art school gets challenging, making “no more falling in love” and “breaking into hollywood” almost impossible.
Our cast and crew of majority LGBTQ+ filmmakers and actors came together the fall of 2020 to bring this project to life, because none of us had properly seen ourselves (queer college students) represented in TV and media. We wanted to create the representation that we always wished we had.
The pilot episode is now out and streaming! People can watch it HERE.