Jamie Margolin’s climate action movement gathers momentum

Jamie Margolin’s climate action movement gathers momentum

Fall 2019 | Written by Kiley Jaques

Jamie Margolin rarely uses the term “climate change” when speaking of her work as an activist. It’s the word “crisis” that drives much of her conversation. The 17-year-old co-founder of Zero Hour, a climate action movement advocating radical policy overhaul, digs deep into the systems of oppression that she sees at the root of the climate crisis. Arguably, it is her ability to make such connections that has landed her on the global stage.

Her presence there has hometown roots. The Seattle native describes her ongoing work as a local activist: “I’ve been mobilizing my community for climate justice for more than three years. My mission is always to protect the Pacific Northwest. It’s my home and it’s beautiful and I love it—it’s part of what motivates me. I joined a youth vs. government lawsuit—we are suing the Washington State government because they are denying our constitutional rights to natural resources by making the climate crisis worse and ensuring we won’t have a livable state.”

Casting a Worldwide Net

Margolin’s 2017 decision to rally young people in response to elected officials’ inaction on climate legislation has greatly broadened the scope of her work. Organizing around a platform written by Kibiriti Majuto, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and a young climate activist, Zero Hour expounds the social implications of colonialism, capitalism, racism, and sexism.

Jamie Margolin is the 17-year-old co-founder of Zero Hour, a climate action movement advocating radical policy change. Photo: Lara Grauer

Majuto drew on lessons he learned while conducting field interviews at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. The Zero Hour team fleshed out his platform to include points derived from the Our Children’s Trust 2015 climate lawsuit, Juliana v. U.S., which claims that governmental actions leading to climate change have “violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, and has failed to protect essential public trust resources.”

The finalized platform outlines scientifically based requirements for safeguarding the planet. “We wanted to propose real solutions that address the roots of the issues,” Margolin explains. “We wanted to have a platform of what we need our leaders and communities to do to solve this crisis, and we wanted it to be something that didn’t leave any communities out and that was really intersectional.”

Those solutions include educating communities—with a particular focus on young people—around the United States and abroad about systems of oppression that have led to the current climate crisis and movement.

Toward that end, Zero Hour recently held a Youth Climate Summit to explain their platform. The 350 attending young people received training on how to become activists in their communities. Out of that event also came the new Zero Hour Miami Chapter, where the summit was held. They have also spread their message via a webinar presented to 300 potential youth activists. “That’s a total of 650 young people who are now going out into their communities and spreading the word about this,” notes Margolin.

Reaching New Ground

Asked how the education conversation gets started, Margolin responds with a definition of insanity similar to Einstein’s: “trying to solve an issue with the same thinking that caused it.” In their workshops, Zero Hour organizers critique mainstream climate solutions, linking them to extractive methodologies.

Zero Hour held a Youth Climate Summit where 350 young people learned how to become activists in their own communities.

“If you look at the roots of the climate crisis, it can be pinpointed back to colonialism, which was not only the genocide of cultures that had been living sustainably for centuries, it was also a mindset of extraction, which led to the modern form of capitalism,” Margolin explains. “Whether you are to the left, right, or center in terms of political ideology, scientifically our earth cannot sustain continuous extraction. When we pose solutions that continue the allowance of corporations to pollute, we are still trying to get out of a problem by buying and selling, which is what caused the problem.”

Zero Hour’s alternative solutions turn to indigenous leadership, which Margolin describes as communities that were colonized and from which resources were extracted, which are now feeling the worst effects of the climate crisis.

She advocates community-based solutions that transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy in a way that puts people most affected by the climate crisis at the center. “It shouldn’t be a revolutionary idea,” she stresses. “It’s just about listening to these communities and letting them take the lead. When they say they don’t want fossil fuel infrastructure, that they’d rather have renewable energy infrastructure—let’s listen to that.”

Bridging Gaps

In its quest to tackle the climate crisis and promote climate justice, Zero Hour extends its hand in many directions. The group’s work hinges on uniting with marginalized peoples. Margolin says finding and connecting with those communities is straightforward. “You just look to see who is being hit hardest by unnatural disasters, as I call them. It’s easy to pinpoint: everyone who is the victim of a system of oppression—colonialism or racism, anyone who is poor. The people who are held down by systems of oppression in our society are the same people who are the most vulnerable to the climate crisis.” Her approach is to find ways to offer support. “Be an ally, provide funding, don’t impose ideas.”

Given their generation, it makes sense that Margolin and her peers use social media to make these connections. She demonstrates the tool’s efficacy by way of example: “I watched a documentary about Standing Rock on Netflix, and I looked up the kids’ names on Facebook and found them.

We started messaging and we’ve built relationships—they help us, and we help them.”

Before communication was so streamlined, Margolin notes, there was the excuse that it was hard to find people to bridge those gaps. For her, there’s no longer any excuse. “If the environmental activist community does not include marginalized communities, that’s a problem that needs fixing.”

Two Years In, Decades to Come

Zero Hour just had its second birthday. Reflecting on this time in her life, Margolin is quick to list all of the skills she has gained as a youth activist: public relations, social media strategy, public speaking, fundraising, and hiring and managing people.

“I’m pretty much running a business, except it’s a nonprofit. I now have this arsenal of tools,” says Margolin. She also has a “Ted Talk” to her credit, as well as two published op-eds and a book in development, Youth to Power, which she describes as a guide to becoming a young activist. “It’s about finding your voice and learning how to use it,” she says.

Margolin has many other plans percolating, too. While attending college, she anticipates, she will tackle more than her coursework. “I want to go to a school that is invested in the fossil fuel industry, and during my years there, get them to divest. I want to find the hard target, possibly Ivy League, and get them to change.”

In five years, she hopes to be in the thick of a massive climate policy shift. “I’ll be 22, so I’ll be gearing up to run for Congress. I want to get into the room as soon as possible—like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—bringing justice knowledge into politics,” she says, noting that legislation like the Green New Deal is “an excellent start.”

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