Climate Activist Jamie Margolin Talks About Her Book 'Youth to Power'
The Colombian American wants to inspire other young people to make the world a better place.
Since she was a child, Jamie Margolin had the calling to make the world a better place. At age 14, she became an activist and started fulfilling her life mission. "I've always been very politically engaged. I always watched the news, political satire shows. I was aware of all these issues in the world and felt helpless to take action about the damage being done to the environment and all these social injustices. I felt such an urge to act but I didn't know how," she tells People CHICA. It wasn't until the 2016 election that she got involved, after reading an ad about the Democratic campaign headquarters in Seattle looking for volunteers. "I became an intern with my local Democratic campaign when I was 14 years old, trying to prevent the election of Donald Trump. Unfortunately that didn't work out," she recalls. "After that I started to get involved in more issue-based activism rather than political activism."
In 2017, she became the founder and co-executive director of Zero Hour, a youth climate justice organization dedicated to saving life on Earth from the climate crisis. "I never asked my parents. I did it and they just kind of went along," she says of becoming an activist as a teen. Her mom, who is Colombian, always demanded she got good grades in school, and her dad, who is Jewish American, supported her by giving her rides to events since she was too young to drive.
Margolin embraces her mixed identity. "I'm very close to my Colombian roots. I don't speak English with my mom at home, we only speak Spanish," she says. She has also visited her family in Colombia. "I'm totally connected to it because it's the language I speak, the food I eat. I inherited the culture from my mom." She also feels close to her dad's cultural group. "Being bicultural is interesting. My dad is white and my mom is very light-skinned. I always feel out of place if I'm with a lot of Latinas, because I'm so light-skinned I don't really feel like I belong. I don't feel like I fit in because I'm mixed. I had a bat mitzvah so I guess my religion is Jewish. My mom and her family just like God — they don't care what form it comes in. I went to Hebrew school and I don't feel out of place in a synagogue or in the Jewish community."
"Most of the work that we do is mobilizing young people for climate justice and doing a lot of education work. We organize a lot of marches, but lately because of the quarantine we've been doing a lot of web campaigns, webinars and livestreams, and online courses about climate change," she says of the work of Zero Hour.
Margolin — who got the MTV EMA Award for Changemaker of 2019, has been featured in Teen Vogue’s 21 Under 21 Young Women Changing the World, Seventeen’s Voices of 2019, and People’s 25 Most Influential Women of 2018 — admits that becoming so involved in social and environmental issues at a young age was challenging.
"It has completely transformed my life, both good and bad. It has empowered me because I know I can change the world and take action on issues, but on a personal level it has taken over my life. I never got the chance to be a normal teenager and that has taken a toll on me mental health–wise," she admits. "It's a lot of pressure, a lot to juggle."
Now 18, she wants to empower younger generations to use their voices to make positive changes in the world. "It's a guide to being a young activist and organizer," she says about her book. "It's the guide that I wish I would have had, that would have helped me get involved. I get a lot of questions on social media from kids all the time— how do I start an organization? How do I do this? I wanted to answer all those questions in an immortal way. A book lasts forever. It's something that I hope will inspire young people to get involved and give them practical tools to start organizing and mobilizing. The best thing we can do for the world is build movements for change."
She disagrees with people that claim the coronavirus pandemic is helping the environment. "It's a very flawed way of looking at things to say that a global crisis is somehow good for the environment. It's hurting so many people — I don't think it's fair to point it out as something good," she emphasizes. "I don't agree that we should be celebrating this crisis because it's hurting a lot of people and corporations are actually talking advantage of this crisis to make more money. Polluters are having a field day polluting as much as possible and lifting regulations. Environmentalism is not about wanting human suffering for the sake of the environment. It's about building a new world where there is justice for everyone."
Losing her grandfather to coronavirus earlier this month really impacted her and her family. "It's really been difficult because we couldn't visit him in the hospital, and at the funeral we all had to stand six feet apart and wear gloves. It was all very sterile," she says. "The coronavirus makes it so you can't properly say goodbye to your loved ones. Everyone is saying, 'It could never happen to me or my family,' but that's what my family thought and yet it happened. You can't be thinking you are immune to anything. Even if you're young, you can be a carrier and infect other people, so you have to be compassionate."
For more information on COVID-19, please visit the official website of the CDC.