Jamie Margolin, co-founder of Zero Hour, described issues in current youth organizing from the inside that I glimpsed from my interviewees for “Climate Girls Saving Our World.” Her organization of a climate strike in 2018 inspired Thunberg, who started school striking a few weeks later. She also inspired Nadia Nazar* who co-founded Zero Hour at age 15 when they connected on Instagram from opposite sides of the US. Now both are in their first year of university. Activists start young: Margolin started in second grade organizing a Green Club.
Intersectionality is a theme: Margolin identifies as a young, Jewish, Latina, gay woman. Her book is dedicated “To the queer kids: We are unstoppable.” She faults the older environmental movement for lacking a national space for young women and POC leaders; therefore, Zero Hour is mostly led by young women, as is typical of youth climate organizations.
The title of her book Youth to Power: Your Voice and How to Use It reveals a common theme: the belief that Gen Z has power. They’re media sophisticated, as her many suggestions in the book reveal, and they’re likely to use art, videos, music, etc. She suggest filming politicians when lobbying them. Stories convince people more than facts because they spark emotion.
A minor theme is the role of some activist “stage moms,” helicopter parents who compete for media attention for their daughters. I ran into two rude moms in the US, who didn’t want their daughters or their friends included in this book. However, adult allies are welcomed, like her parents and helpers at Plant for the Planet.
An important theme is interpersonal relations among activists, referred to as drama, which I heard about from North and Latin Americans. Margolin reports that tension is normal and “I’ve sure had a lot of it in my movement-building experiences,” the most difficult aspect of organizing. At first she acted like a dictator, until disagreements finally surfaced, and she turned to consensus decision-making based on teams with directors, with a final vote on a proposal. The team directors have weekly conference calls. Margolin reports “it’s my job as a leader to support and guide,” so she doesn’t discount the need for leaders like some activists. She learned that community building is half the work of changemaking since infighting weakens the group. This includes letting go of irresponsible members.
Mental health has become an acknowledged issue: Margolin recommends going to a therapist, which has helped her the most of any self-care methods. Her workaholic focus on Zero Hour shut off her emotions and “made me depressed, anxious, grumpy, and tired a lot.” She spent much of her time in high school not paying attention in class, working on emails and such, or missing “tons of school.” Our activists also mentioned having to give up activities they loved and missing school and sleep to do organizing. She too fell victim to comparing herself to other social activists who got more attention on social media, “as a social media addict in a world that pits people against each other for accolades.” This sometimes “makes me feel like crap,” so she wisely tries to limit scrolling time. Margolin suggests taking time off and making time for fun, which for her is watching movies and listening to music, as well as being with friends and family. She usually has on headphones with loud music playing. Margolin frankly discusses problems and tactics facing the youth activists I interviewed.