By Madeline Gray
About the interviews
The young people of Aotearoa are hugely active within the environmental advocacy sphere and have proven to be influential leaders of change. But what is it like in these spaces?
It is brave work to step up and advocate for climate action in the face of societal and political barriers. Even more so as a recent global survey
shows that 65% of young people feel like governments are failing them.
I interviewed four young leaders from around New Zealand to gain their perspectives. I'll be sharing two interviews in each part of this piece - Part 1 and Part 2. Their responses are open-hearted, genuine and encouraging, filling me with hope for a better future.
About the activists
El is a queer, neurodiverse Pākehā activist who has grown up here in Aotearoa and has been passionate about our taiao since they were very young. In the last few years, they have gotten involved in activism, which has been a fulfilling and interesting yet deeply conflicting place to discover themselves and their kaupapa within. They are currently exploring how they could turn passions around changing the world into a career, but they love to read, write, act, and crochet in front of Netflix in their free time.
Ko Pip/Pipiana tōku ingoa, Ko Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Raukawa te iwi. Pip is a 16-year-old indigenous queer activist currently living in Tāmaki Makarau. They are in their last year of high school, juggling their studies alongside other important passions such as leading the school's feminist club, engaging with other feminist/environmental/social justice/indigenous rights groups, and doing their own research and learning about their whakapapa and other topics.
Their main kaupapa centres around understanding people - though specifically rangatahi - how their brains work and interact with the world and environments around them, and how activists and social justice groups can utilise this understanding to work towards the collective benefit and liberation of oppressed/marginalised groups. In their spare time, they like listening to music, reading, spending time outside appreciating Papatūānuku, and creating in whatever way they can.
About the author
Madeline is a second-year university student studying primary education. She is interested in all things environmental, but most of all loves to understand new perspectives and look at ways to educate people on climate issues.
As rangatahi in Aotearoa, what are some vital or interesting areas to you?
As a rangatahi in Aotearoa, I think it's important to care about a range of issues. I believe there is a huge divide between politics and the people, especially for rangatahi in particular. Politics governs every part of your life. Many people don't realise this because it's hard to make that connection in your head.
I try to stay as accessible as I can, but it is a lot of personal Mahi. What we should do is call on our politicians to do better at simplifying it for us. I recently read posts from @shityoushouldcareabout on Instagram, which is a wonderful place to keep updated with news in an accessible and easy way. From that, I learnt about how stuff (i.e. politics accessibility) has been designed to create that disconnect. These are the same ideas happening in our political system. We need to find a way to break this disconnect. I don't know the solutions, but it's something I really care about.
Climate change is impacted by politics too; it's something close to my heart. I also think, in terms of accessibility to essentials, like the covid-19 vaccine, there is a disconnect of information there. My overall kaupapa is, let's make life and opinions accessible for everyone.
One of the main areas I'm concerned about is the disconnect, the education disconnect - especially what people are taught and how different subjects are taught to them. I'm involved in different areas and groups where I'm doing learning and work surrounding various issues, but this is often just me teaching content to myself or with the few others around me who are focused on the same issues. And the problem is that this is almost always the case - unless you do very specialised subjects/papers/mahi (and even then, these are often taught from a very colonial approach) - and then this is where the education disconnect occurs because we're never 'traditionally' learning the 'hard stuff'.
Many of my friends are interested in learning about and acting on matters of politics, human rights, etc - but they don't know where to start. School gives you some grounding, but without an accessible education available to ALL that isn't a whitewashed perspective of social needs and issues, there are few opportunities to gain a decent understanding. Without these accessible opportunities, access to information, and a space to learn, enthusiasm and interest can easily deter and leave many people without the drive to continue. Essentially, and this does seem like a wild card - easier said than done - we need to rebuild our foundations from the ground up so that future generations have the right information and space available to them.
Having the opportunity to learn about climate justice, intersectionality, queerness, racism, colonisation; should be accessible in every way to every single person. So it doesn't take up disproportionate or unjust time, space or mahi. The system needs to be worked from the ground up. Learning these things should be embedded into our systems, in the same way, learning to spell and memorising times tables are - crucial factors of the curriculum.
What are some of the challenges you face while advocating for environmental issues?
As Lourdes has posted, I think setting boundaries for yourself as an activist. It's so important. As well as that, there's not much education on dealing with activism now; there should be a lot more. It's very tiring to have to set those limits and set those boundaries. I'm fortunate to have a lot of privilege, but I still have to set those boundaries because otherwise, I may offend people without intending to. So, within the environmental space, there needs to be more focus on protecting people within discriminated groups, especially POC. There needs to be a priority of justice, especially climate justice.
Coming to terms with myself and my own place in the world as a white seeming Māori person, especially in relation to climate justice and the intersection of social and climate justice has been a big challenge for me.
As a white seeming person, I must approach things with acknowledgement of the degrees of privilege that I have as a white seeming person. Still, there is a hurt that comes from people assuming you are pākehā because you have fair skin, there is a hurt that comes from your indigeneity being invalidated by people who believe they are entitled to comment on you and your whakapapa, and there is a resounding hurt that stems from sitting with other people that advocate for climate justice who, behind close doors, unfairly treat indigenous whānau - my brothers, sisters, cousins, aunties, uncles - because they are unaware of my whakapapa and place in the world as a Māori person, purely based on their preconceived colonial ideas of what it is to be Māori. I've had to sit through many uncomfortable discussions, as Māori and rangatahi, where they are unaware of it. Seeing both sides of it and not having that confidence to step up because of that worry of "because I'm not dark-skinned I'm not Māori enough for people" that has been my biggest challenge.
Do you feel that being young can sometimes be a barrier when trying to advocate in these spheres? Does it come with a stigma, or does it work in your favour?
I think it can be a barrier, especially trying to find the time. But it can work in your favour, depending on the situation. I believe it can change your mind quickly. When I talk to older people about queerness, it takes them a while. Whereas, when I speak to a younger person, it's better understood
But it can absolutely be a barrier because people don't listen to us. So it definitely can be a little bit of both. Many people don't listen, but the people who take the time to listen can learn a lot because we can easily pick up new ideas and new things and revolutionise our minds.
I see that there are both benefits and downfalls. Being rangatahi can be helpful. The way information spreads nowadays is largely online, and many youths are able to harness this powerful way of spreading information in a positive way. We are the face of this ever-developing online world that we are growing up in, and I think this is making us hyperaware of social issues and the needs the world is facing. While this comes with its benefits, the ready access that youth has to multitudes of information can also cause problems such as a heightened sense of fear e.g. climate anxiety as well as confirmation bias.
However, I do think being young presents more challenges - because adults don't like to take young people seriously. Adults like you when you're young and "cute" and unable to communicate your opinions, but as soon as you grow up, form opinions and become your own person, adults seem to think you're clueless and know little of the world. It's just infuriating because, due to the way the systems of the world work, adults generally get the final say, and this presents a huge barrier - especially when we desperately need those in charge to listen. It can swing both ways and is very circumstantial.
Do you have any tips to overcome stigma and barriers?
I think the biggest thing is to stand your ground confidently. Many people struggle with that, myself included, but it's important because everyone's opinion matters. Once you realise this problem exists, tell people to hush. Stand your ground, be confident in your kaupapa and be ready to back yourself on what you're saying. If you're not prepared to do that, take a step back, find some sources and come back.
I have recently seen something great about Chlöe Swarbrick (from the Green Political party). The way she went to university, studied what she was interested in and then, from anger, decided to make a change into the political sphere she is now in. People need to realise that this is possible, but of course, there are barriers to some. The overall message is to have guts but be ready to back yourself up.
Recognise your own privileges, recognise the privileges of the people you're trying to conversate with and combat both of those in a productive way. Recognise that, and it has taken me years of working in activism years of activism circles, you're not going to be right all of the time. There will never be a world in which every person has the same opinion or perspective because everyone is entitled to their own freedom of thought and speech. Unless it's someone saying horrible things that will put your livelihood or wellbeing at risk, it's better to take on their perspective and yours to find a middle ground. A middle ground will often leave room for an active and effective conversation to take place.
A big stigma or barrier is things not progressing because people are too proud of their opinion. Being able to have those conversations with different perspectives and work these into your responses and thoughts will change the way you think dramatically Also if talking to someone you disagree with, recognise the privileges they may have and how this would affect where their point/opinion is coming from and then try and work around or with that.
If you're talking to someone you are trying to learn from, don't get defensive- instead, recognise the privileges you may have that they may not, and vice versa. Understanding that privilege, or lack thereof, affects perspectives, words and kaupapa.
Do you feel there are enough accessible youth resources and spaces around for environmental advocacy and education?
No. It's hard to access the information you need, especially if you're neurodiverse and struggle to store information. For example, I try to mahi on my Instagram (@fey.fatale), and it's difficult to begin those conversations to get people interested. You have to get people interested first before they listen. If you search for the resources and have space and time, you can find it. But who has all the space or time? I've found absolute love in "The Spinoff" because they're really good at simplifying stuff.
There are good things out there, but there could be a lot more, as I touched upon in question one.
What is one message you would like to tell future generations and readers?
Keep up hope that change is possible. As Angela Davis once said, "You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time."
"You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. and you have to do it all the time" (a quote from Angela Davis).
Photos courtesy of Matt Illing from School Strike for Climate.