Youth leading the charge for climate change. These are how many headlines about climate activism read these days. One of the movement’s figureheads, Jamie Margolin, has a message for adults — do their part, too. The 17-year-old high school senior spoke with Parentology about how the state of the earth is an intergenerational responsibility.
That’s Right: She’s 17.
Like many of the climate activists we’ve covered, Margolin is juggling SATs, college applications and a heavy course load. For the acclaimed climate activist, the world is both a small place and a big responsibility. As the founder of Zero Hour, an international youth climate justice movement, Margolin has been rallying youth to stop the projected 10-year countdown before climate change’s impacts are irreversible. Zero Hour has been active throughout the US, hosting the 2018 Youth Climate March in Washington, DC and the first Youth Climate Summit this June in Miami.
Even as Margolin was speaking with Parentology, a filmmaker was following her while she was working on edits for her debut book, Youth to Power. With 2019 seeing Margolin tour the country to speak about climate change, she’s contemplating the June launch of her book as well as 2020’s The Climate Tour.
“This time I’ll be speaking around the world, managing the internals and new projects. There’s more…” she trails off.
Though she hasn’t begun applying for colleges yet, Margolin says, “I joke my goal is to attend college on the east coast so I can be the Jewish Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.” Already heavily involved in political advocacy, she wants to be closer to the action of east coast politics, something she’s targeting as her future career.
The Book: Youth to Power
All good leaders know delegating tasks is key to success. Margolin is doing that through Youth to Power.
“It’s the ultimate guide to being a young activist,” she says of the book that covers topics like lobbying, movement building and, yes, time management.
Having kicked off her own activism journey as a high school freshman, she’s now seen as an expert among peers and adults alike.
“I’m constantly getting social media messages from young people craving change who see me as a woman activist and say, ‘I don’t think I can do this.’” The truth is that it’s taken Margolin a long time to get here. “They think that I know what I’m doing, but the reality is no one actually knows what they’re doing.”
Her advice? “Mesh with the best of what you have. We’re all just making it up as we go along, but there are strategies to better make that up.”
How Parents Can Support Young Activists
Margolin got to this position with great support from her parents. But while the Seattle resident’s parents are supportive of their daughter’s efforts to change the world, they do have their limits. They make her eat and firmly tell her when it’s time to go to bed. Indeed, while we’re on the phone, her mom interrupts with a bowl of papaya.
All this modeling of behavior has made Margolin keenly aware of what makes a good “young activist parent.”
“The best way parents can be supportive and understanding is to not step on their child’s neck,” she says. “I have a lot of friends with so much potential: they love poetry, are good writers, passionate public speakers, and fighters for things like climate change. The only thing getting between them and being amazing public activists are unsupportive parents who clip their wings.”
Her message to parents: “Let them explore; let them be.”
That said, Margolin sees parents who sometimes become too supportive, micromanaging their kids’ activist careers.
“It’s best [parents] do their own thing.” She believes having kids’ backs comes via other avenues. “Supporting organizations, caretaking, voting,” Margolin says. “There’s so much to do in the movement. Instead of helicoptering your kid, organize.”
Margolin gives kudos to her parents for giving her space, letting her travel, chaperoning, lending support (especially making sure she eats), ensuring there are no scheduling conflicts — basically opening the way for her voice to be heard.
“I’ve earned their trust,” she adds. “In the internals of the organization, they know what I tell them and aren’t actually involved. I keep it that way purposefully.”
Kids Tell Parents: Vote
“There have been studies showing that kids have the most influence over their parents’ votes,” Margolin says. She encourages youth to sit down with their parents and discuss why one candidate is better for their future over another. And, of course, making sure they vote in every election. This can extend to helping parents register, researching candidates and explaining the voting process.
“Going to community meetings, protests, debates as a family… Participating in a democracy as a family is very important. Do whatever you can to participate in change.”
Climate Change: Fear Versus Positivity
Then there’s the climate change conversation. While fear for the future naturally arises in these conversations, Margolin says, “No good comes from fear with no strategy. But sugarcoating and pretending harm isn’t happening when it is, isn’t good either. You have to find a nice middle ground.”
What’s most vital, though, beyond getting adults to listen, is activating them.
“The climate crisis is intergenerational,” Margolin says. “We shouldn’t be pitting generations against each other, or putting all the burden on one generation.”
Lately, Margolin hears adults saying kids will take care of climate change. “They’re expecting to just sit back and let it fall on us,” she says. “In reality, everyone needs to do their part.”