“Sorry I’m a bit scatterbrained, I just took the PSAT today,” Jamie Margolin tells me over the phone. Though she’s still a high school junior, Margolin, has already made an outsized impact in the fight for climate justice. Earlier this year, she and twelve other kids sued the state of Washington for infringing on their constitutional rights by “actively worsening the climate crisis.”
Margolin is also the founder and executive director of Zero Hour, the activist organization that led the Youth Climate March in July 2018. On Election Day, Zero Hour, as part of the Future Coalition—which also includes youth-led organizations like March for Our Lives—are organizing #WalkoutToVote, a campaign that now encompasses 500 planned walkouts of voting-age students at high schools across the country. As of early November, a viral video of their efforts has amassed 7.7 million social media shares, including from the likes of Hillary Clinton and Snoop Dogg.
Margolin and I discussed the campaign and what might be a future worth voting for.
Q: How did you get into climate activism and organizing?
Jamie Margolin: As a sixteen-year-old, there has never been a time that it hasn’t been there. I got into it especially after the 2016 election. I was doing this weird thing where I cared about [climate issues] so much that I wouldn’t even think about it . . . because it was just too much for me to handle. But after 2016, I realized that just wasn’t an option anymore. It really never was. So I joined a local environmental organization. Long story short, there was never really an “off” moment in climate for me. It wasn’t like, “Oh, this exists because I saw a documentary”—it was just always a looming threat.
Q: Why did you decide to sue the state of Washington?
Margolin: When we have twelve years left to save the world, the Washington state government should be leading. We should be shutting down fossil fuel plants, transitioning to renewable energy, investing in communities. But instead they’re building new natural gas terminals, they’re building more of what caused this. What I like to say is the first step to getting out of a hole is to stop digging, so why do we keep digging? Now it’s very sad that the government and the court both sided against the kids [a judge dismissed the case in August]. It’s the government and the state court saying, “Sorry, you don’t deserve what you’re asking for.” What we’re asking for is simply a liveable future.
“The kids are doing our part—it’s the leaders who aren’t doing their part. We can’t just go through their system as normal, trusting that they’ll take care of us.”
Q: How did your organization, Zero Hour, come to be?
Margolin: After Hurricane Maria and the response—or lack of—to that, it was blaring in the media that the world was ending. So I started talking about it a lot on social media. I was like, “There needs to be some sort of march, some sort of wake-up call, from the youth to our leaders.” A few other people responded to my call to action, and it kind of just grew. We were just a coalition of random kids across the country. This isn’t a fight we picked, it’s a fight we have to fight as young people.
Q: Why did Zero Hour join up with the Future Coalition, which includes groups across different areas of social justice?
Margolin: Well it’s not just simply about climate, it’s really about the systems of oppression that are keeping us down. For example, when it comes to, “What’s does this have to do with gun violence?”—well, just like the NRA, the fossil fuel industry practically owns our government. They’ve bought the entire Republican party and buy Democrats as well. Just like NRA money is corrupting and preventing progress, the fossil fuel industry is preventing progress and killing people.
Q: Can you talk about the coalition’s #WalkoutToVote?
Margolin: I personally am not old enough to vote, but I will still organize a walkout to get people who are old enough to vote to the polls. School is something we have to go to, no matter what. And we do our part preparing for our future where we take these tests, we sacrifice a lot of time in childhood hoping that it’ll pay back in our future. So the kids are doing our part—it’s the leaders who aren’t doing their part. We can’t just go through their system as normal, trusting that they’ll take care of us. So we’re walking out, which is a form of disruption, and we’re voting, which is a concrete form of exercising our rights and saying “No.”