My Toxic Experience as a Youth Climate Activist
I worked with U.S Youth Climate Strike from the beginning of the organization and left in the Summer of 2019. I am extremely disappointed to hear sexual assault allegations against someone I worked alongside (in various capacities) and sickened to know people were trying to cover them up. My organization, Meddling Kids Movement, is working on a story trying to learn more details. Separate from any of the organizations that I direct, I have a personal story to share.
This is why I left the youth-led climate movement and why I am not going back.
The Youth Climate Summit
I have dedicated the last two years of my life to youth climate organizations, but the most difficult thing for me to reconcile with happened in July of 2019.
I heard about Zero Hour’s Youth Climate Summit through the organization that I direct, Meddling Kids Movement. We were asked to partner with them and invited to set up a table at the summit. I was beyond excited. Zero Hour was a huge inspiration to me starting MKM and I intensely looked up to all of their leaders.
I prepped all of my organizational information and went to Miami to table at the summit. I was also going as a reporter for MKM because we are a media-based organization that primarily relies on interviews for our content. Tabling went very well and I met a lot of really cool young people who wanted to get involved with MKM.
I went upstairs to the press room to try and conduct some interviews with the youth leaders of Zero Hour. I was told that I would be able to do that. I ended up waiting over three hours to speak with someone. The summit was very hectic so I understood that they might be too busy to speak with me, but watching adult male reporters walk in and out and get interviews in less than 5 minutes, I quickly realized that was not the case. I told myself that since those reporters were from huge media outlets, Zero Hour probably didn’t have time to prioritize a youth-led one.
Even though, Zero Hour is a youth-led organization.
I rationalized. Even when I knew that we had been partnered with Zero Hour for months and featured almost all of their staff. Even when a very prominent founder of Zero Hour walked into the press room where I had been sitting for hours, looked at me, and then walked away without saying a word, I still told myself I was crazy. That I didn’t belong there.
Whenever I think about this, I ask myself why I didn’t say something or stand up for myself or my organization and blame myself, but honestly, I just wanted these people to like me. I ended up interviewing two amazing young women and I am very grateful for that. When I was leaving the press room, I stopped to speak to volunteers from the Zero Hour Team and was asked to watch their things while they went to hang out. I knew an adult male reporter wouldn’t have been treated like this. I wanted to be cool, but I felt extremely disrespected and confused.
This was the main incident that left me questioning Zero Hour’s leadership, but the rest of the summit was more of the same. I know I am going to get backlash for this and people will deny it, but every time I tried to talk to fellow youth climate activists at the event, I was met with exclusion. I was kicked out of my seat, refused to speak to, ignored, and lied to. I was literally pushed against a wall when a camera crew wanted to get a shot of a popular youth climate activist.
I never felt like anyone gave a damn about kids from the Deep South even though we are a frontline community too. That continues to be the case in every other climate organization I have worked with.
Youth leaders and organizations need to be held accountable. There are kind, amazing people in Zero Hour and I am holding their directors personally responsible for this. I want people to know that the pain I, and other youth activists, have felt does not begin to match up with Zero Hour’s social media content pretending everything was great.
I have heard many stories of a culture of silence that runs throughout the youth climate movement, which includes Zero Hour and other organizations. People being bullied, shamed, threatened, exploited, assaulted, kicked out, and ignored. That is not what youth activism is to me.
Just because I scrolled through social media idolizing a movement for years, does not mean that I deserve to be afraid to call out the bullshit inside of it.
I left that summit crying and feeling invalidated because of my gender, age, and status as an organizer. I want larger organizations to prioritize the work of grassroots youth-led media and I would like to see Zero Hour share what their plans are to create a more tolerant environment for people who have been hurt by their actions because I am not the only one.
However, Zero Hour is not the only organization with a problem.
The Youth Climate Movement
I was recently on a call with Fridays for Future USA where an adult man policed whether or not we should be allowed to curse. This made only the young women feel like they needed to apologize for it.
I went to a rally in Washington D.C. with Fire Drill Fridays and while I learned a lot from incredible people, I was literally stepped on by adults even when I was one of the only teenagers in the crowd. I don’t say all of this to complain. I say this because the youth-led climate movement centralizes adults, leaves out young women, and creates a culture of silence/shame for anyone who wants to speak out about it.
If we want to fight the biggest global threat to our generation, these are things we must start talking about.
What I would like to see is transparency from all climate organizations specifically those within the Youth Climate Strike coalition.
Question what you see on the Internet. Hold youth activists accountable. I have kept this story untold since July because I am scared of the backlash it will receive. Yet, I am terrified of watching the youth climate movement turn into a popularity contest.
If we fall into cliques and drama, the planet will continue to burn and we will have been complicit.
This is not me trying to bring any movement down. I want people to know the truth and if I can stop any of this from happening again, it will have been worth it.
My story has never been safe within the climate movement, but it has also never been wanted. While I have met incredible kids in this movement who I will always be grateful to, I have met a lot of people who seek the same kind of corruption they claim to want to stop. For example, organizations that put intersectionality on their website and then don’t do the work. Who literally exploit the work, lives, and mental health of young women and then tell us to shut up.
I will continue to do what I can, personally, to stop the climate crisis. I have decided to spend the rest of my time as a youth activist fighting for the rights of women and young people who are consistently kicked out of every space, even the ones that belonged to us first.