Jamie Margolin can’t remember a time in her life when climate change wasn’t a crisis. The signs were everywhere, from the disappearing sea life in the 16-year-old’s hometown of Seattle, to the climate-related disasters in Colombia where her mother’s family lives.
“When you’re growing up with all this beautiful wildlife around you, it gives you a better idea of what you want to protect,” said Margolin, who will start 11th grade this fall. “And also it’s more painful when, for example, things go wrong, when you see that that habitat is being destroyed.”
Margolin said she wanted to take action when she was younger, but avoided it because the problem was so terrifying. But Donald Trump’s election spurred her to action.
“As young people, we find ourselves in this really awkward place in history where we are going to be alive for the worst effects of climate change, but we’re not old enough to make the decisions right at that tipping point where they need to be made,” she said.
She joined Plant-for-the-Planet, a youth initiative to fight the climate crisis. But Margolin had bigger plans. The 2017 Women’s March on Washington, D.C., planted a seed in her mind for a similar youth march to end “business as usual on climate change,” but she knew it would be a big undertaking.
Then the summer of 2017 happened ― the hottest and driest summer on record in Seattle, compounded by suffocating, smoke-filled air from wildfires throughout the region. Margolin also attended a summer leadership program at Princeton University and met teens from around the globe, including places already affected by rising sea levels like the Marshall Islands.
“I read that the Marshall Islands are sinking, but then suddenly [these students are] your friends, and they’re like ‘Yeah, my house got flooded the other day,’ and I was like ‘Oh, damn,’” said Margolin.
She decided to mobilize a youth climate march in Washington, D.C., on July 21, and along with three fellow teen co-founders, launched the organization Zero Hour to emphasize the urgency needed to act on climate change.
A diverse group of students is spearheading the march. They’ve created a platform shared exclusively with HuffPost that recognizes the environmental impact of climate change on marginalized communities such as indigenous, homeless, queer and trans people, communities of color, and people with disabilities.
“You really can’t fight for climate justice without fighting all of these other systems of oppression, because those systems of oppression are why we’re here in the first place,” said Margolin. More than 40 groups have endorsed the movement, including the global grassroots climate organization 350.org, which described the upcoming event as the largest youth-of-color-organized climate march in U.S. history.
“As the Trump administration disregards the dignity and human rights of young people and their families, we have a responsibility to stand with youth who are fighting to protect our collective future and prevent the worst impacts of climate change,” said May Boeve, 350.org’s executive director, in a statement announcing the endorsement last month.
High among the movement’s principles is the goal of ensuring that youth voices are not just heard, but are at the center of the conversation around how climate change will be addressed. Youth have historically shifted culture toward progress, Zero Hour states in its principles.
“When you’re young, you don’t really have power, and you question the world around you,” said Margolin. “You haven’t been trained in most systems, and so you question what’s being forced on you.”
Zero Hour co-founder Nadia Nazar, of Baltimore, Maryland, said she thought she could wait until she was older to take action on climate change, but the more learned about issues like species extinction, the more she realized she couldn’t wait.
“If one person can make a difference and if I could get my community to get on board and to become a global movement, then I could make a difference just like anyone else can,” said Nazar, 16.