How are young people challenging power structures and creating communities? A side event at the COP 27 gathered youth activists from different corners of the world to reflect about the meanings of activism and resistance.
By Jessica Cuel
It’s 18.30 in Sharm el Sheikh, the end a day packed with meetings and conferences. In order for the speakers and the public to release the tensions accumulated during the day, this event starts with a meditation session. Following that, Mikaela Loach, an UK-Jamaican activist who is in charge of moderating the meeting sets the scene of the event, chanting the iconic slogan of the youth climate movement: “what do we want? climate justice! when do we want it? now!”. Only after having performed these small but meaningful rituals, the energy is right to start a conversation about the power of youth activism.
First things first, the speakers express solidarity with imprisoned Egyptian activists, in particular Egyptian-British Alaa Abd-el-Fattah, now on a hunger strike, calling on the UK government to take action to free him. Starting from that, the meeting touches upon topics such as climate justice, resistance and the power of building communities.
For Re Cabrera, as a woman of color and an indigenous person, resistance means fighting against extractivism, joining in the same fights with the local communities at the frontlines of climate action. Indeed, she points out that inside the youth climate movement, there is generally a lack of direct action, and that, although protests are good for visibility, it is not enough. There is the need for real action, and this takes courage, as, places like Mexico, where only last year 54 land rights activists were killed, are dangerous places for dedicating one’s life to defend the earth.
In a Kenya ravaged by drought, for Eric Njuguna, the very meaning of resistance is the mere, stubborn existence of local communities that keep on fighting for their livelihoods. He started a campaign in 2020 to fight against the US fossil fuel lobby that export plastic waste to Kenya despite the nation’s ban on plastic, labeling this phenomenon “waste colonialism”. Indeed, he goes on by saying that “also some solutions (to the climate crisis) are neocolonial in nature”, referring to climate finance. Indeed, climate finance in the form of loans, instead of grants, risks of further indebting developing countries. In this vein , Eric fights for a climate justice that takes into consideration “debt justice”, and that fights “fortress conservation” that can cause the displacement of people and communities that have been living in harmony with nature for centuries, and that are actually part of ecosystems.
Indeed, the potential damages of climate finance is a theme that emerged strongly from the voices of youth activists. Ayisha Siddiqa, from flood-ravaged Pakistan is part of the group Polluters Out, that started as a youth-led coalition committed to kicking the fossil fuel industry out of every aspect of our society” and ended up digging into the conflicts of interests inside the UNFCCC, that get sponsored by the very companies that have been causing the climate crisis.
On a final note, the speakers invite all the people that wish to take up the fight to connect o to other like-minded people and create communities of sharing and love. Indeed, quoting the filipino activist Mitzi Jonelle Tan, the environmental defenders fight because they love their communities, their land, their oceans. In addition, change does not happen overnight, and is a slow process, that requires dedication and patience, and starts with starts with listening to the most marginalized people. This sounds to be at odds with the urgent action required to fight climate change, but although it will be difficult, Mitzi goes on saying that “we have no time, the crisis is here, I know it will be a long fight, and the system does not change easily, but I know it will happen.”