On 15th February 2019, hundreds of young people streamed out of Westminster tube station and onto the fresh grass of Parliament Square, still holding onto its morning dew. My placard (a lone piece of A4 hurriedly glued onto cereal box cardboard, with ‘Please, do something’ on it in Sharpie) and I were among them, a crowd that soon expanded into thousands by 11am, the expected start time for the UK’s first ever youth climate strike. We were making history.
I had first heard about the climate strike through a friend’s Instagram story, where she’d used a poll feature to see whether her followers were attending this new youth environment protest. I immediately knew I had to go, overwhelmed by an inexplicable feeling of urgency and necessity. Images of young people organising and leading social movements throughout time came to my mind - was this our generation’s moment to take the stage, when the world had been quiet about the climate emergency for so long?
That powerful feeling - of anger at the climate crisis, of fury at lack of government action, and of being surrounded by like-minded young people who would no longer be afraid or silent - carried me through that day. Without thinking, I asked to borrow a megaphone from a fellow protestor and started shouting through it for others to join me and march down the street of Whitehall, past 10 Downing Street and through to Trafalgar Square, a home for demonstrators for decades.
"I wasn’t sure if anyone would hear or join me, but I was willing to take back our roads and make enough noise to be heard, even if it meant stopping traffic alone and marching out."
By thinking like that, I underestimated the strength and collective power of the crowds of young people around me. We were chanting together, so we would march together. We had made enough noise to show that we were serious about forcing the government’s hand, about genuinely pursuing concrete action on the climate crisis. It was only later that evening, when I was telling my parents about the 5,000 young people I had led out onto the streets, and how I wanted to get more involved in climate campaigning, that I realised what a momentous day this would be known as. It wasn’t just the beginning of my journey - it was the beginning of a new era of climate activism, and a wave of change, spearheaded by young people, was coming.
After messaging the UK Student Climate Network, who had organised the strike following Greta Thunberg’s ‘Fridays For Future’ strikes in Sweden, I threw myself into environmental and political campaigning headfirst. A year and a half later, I’m a climate activist and organiser, putting together nationwide climate strikes and help coordinate the youth climate justice movement on an international scale. I’ve also broadened my work into youth empowerment, educational reform, and systemic change from the grassroots to the global level. I was a lead organiser for the record-breaking global climate strike in September 2019, which saw over 350,000 people across the UK spill out onto the streets in the largest climate mobilisation in the country’s history, joining the 8 million worldwide who walked out that day of their homes, schools, and workplaces. Once again, young people had managed to change the world.
A demonstration of that scale doesn’t happen in a day. It takes months of work - months of 7am zoom calls and 1am speech-writing, months of hopping on the last tube to get home from a meeting, months of rushing out an email to apologise to school for missing yet another class to go speak in a tiny town hall... but mostly, it was months of surrounding myself with like-minded people, who together helped me find ways to avoid burnout and the debilitating exhaustion that those who struggle with mental health are often all too familiar with. The importance of safe communities and networks cannot be understated.
Humans are social creatures; we need external care and attention in order to heal and protect ourselves from the overwhelming fears of uncertainty and insecurity. Being a part of those networks gave me the support I needed to be brave, to commit to climate activism and allow it to be the central focus of my life.
As a former sufferer of severe depression and anxiety, I knew all too well the risks of throwing yourself into a project mindlessly, even though this was less a project than a full-time job. The beginning of my journey into climate activism coincided with the end of three years of therapy, medication, and hospital visits. Organising brought a purpose into my life that safely bridged the uncertain period between being a sufferer of mental health, and becoming a survivor. I can’t credit campaigning with my success in the fight against depression, but it did facilitate my understanding of how to utilise emotional difficulties in activism.
"Once we recognise the significance and validity of our emotions, they are crucial in evoking a response."
Crippling eco- anxiety can be transformed into anger, and anger into action. Once we recognise the significance and validity of our emotions, they are crucial in evoking a response to the climate crisis from others, but in propelling us forward, in driving us to keep working for a better, safer future, every single day. We can’t afford to be afraid of how we feel; it is our greatest asset. We can face both battles - climate emergency and our mental health - collectively. When we strike together, when we fight together, we heal. And after we heal, we win.