Youth Climate Activism: From Poetry to StrikesApril 15, 2019
My name is Akhila Bandlora, and I was one of the organizers for Arizona’s Youth Climate Strike. I’ve been following the youth climate activist scene in Arizona for a few years, and this past December, after a chapter of Zero Hour was established in Phoenix by a couple of my friends, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to expand my activism beyond my pen and paper.
The Youth Climate Strike represented the action I’d been so eager to see in Arizona. Unlike more environmentally “aware” states like California or New York, Arizona has always had the environment on the back-burner. And sometimes it feels like its constituents have as well. This strike meant more than just solidarity with an international movement against climate change; it meant realizing that there are a growing number of young environmentalists in Arizona who are passionate and ready to get involved with the cause.
Climate change, or rather climate justice, is my generation’s future. We have 11 years to change our behaviors before climate change is irreversible. In 11 years, I’ll be 28, my sister will be 22, and my cousin will be 11. We’ll have our whole lives halted if we don’t do something NOW.
There are so many reasons climate change is important to me; I fight against climate change because it operates on various systems of oppression, specifically racism, and I fundamentally believe effectively addressing climate change is the first step to dismantling those systems. I’m currently writing a research paper for my AP Seminar class on how climate change disproportionately impacts people of color and low-income communities. This research has yet again reminded me that climate change isn’t an abstract concept confined to glaciers and penguins and turtles; it impacts my community and the people I love dearly, and that’s why I continue to fight against it.
Perhaps the hardest part of being a youth activist, beyond the general reluctance of adults to take you seriously or your lack of political clout, is feeling you are alone in your activism journey. But this strike showed me (and countless other young people) that this was far from the case, and I’ve never been so happy to be so wrong. We are finally building a community of young climate activists in Arizona and joining hands with the international movement!
To be an ocean advocate in a landlocked state, a climate activist in a predominantly conservative state, or a young person trying to make a change is inherently difficult. But, as I learned on March 15th, it’s not impossible.
Prior to the Youth Climate Strike, my environmental activism was through poetry. Initially, I thought poetry was meant to be a solo journey; however, after further involvement in both activist and poetry scenes, I realized I was wrong. It’s never been clearer how intersected my poetry and advocacy have been than at the Youth Climate Strike.
At the strike, I performed my piece “never forget”, which received a Gold Award in Bow Seat’s 2017 Ocean Awareness Contest. Performing that piece was probably the most empowered I’ve felt in my entire life. Poetry has given my advocacy and involvement in the fight against climate change a platform, and an accessible way to communicate my thoughts about what’s going on. Young people, through politics and research and art and economics and business, are leading the fight against climate change, and I am so grateful to have had the chance to recognize my own agency in it.
Poetry has given my advocacy and involvement in the fight against climate change a platform.
As a young person involved in creative disciplines such as writing, I believe one of the most effective ways young people can get involved in their community and begin discussions is through art. Sometimes people forget that advocating for social and environmental causes through art is a deliberate and active form of protesting. Dubbed a “a generation without representation,” young people are the most underrepresented in policy change, but historically, they are almost always the initiators of social movements. By creating art, we are empowering our own expression and paving the way for social change.
Ultimately, I’m hopeful about the future, at least whose hands it’s in (hint: brilliant young people!). I’m constantly in awe of other artivists, particularly Kinsale Hueston and Amanda Gorman. Their work has transformed the lives of so many people and serves as a continual reminder for me of poetry’s restorative and collaborative power. I’m also astounded by all the young people in my life and around the world who continue to keep fighting for what they believe in despite the obstacles; y’all keep me motivated and inspired 🙂
Join our community of 10,000 young people + counting who are making waves for our blue planet! The 2019 Ocean Awareness Contest: “Presence of Future” is accepting submissions until June 17th, 2019. Students ages 11-18 around the world are invited to create visual art, poetry, prose, music, or film that explores the impact of climate change on the ocean.