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Youth Environmental Activism

With the climate crisis becoming a more prevalent issue in the 21st century, many environmental activists have advocated to address environmental concerns. Many are youth activists organizing and learning for social change and making their voices heard. In this article, I interviewed Charlene Rocha, a youth environmental activist who has advocated for intersectional environmental justice and recently won the Ontario Student Voice Award for Environmental Stewardship.

Interview with Charlene

Tell me a bit about yourself and how you’ve been involved in environmental activism!

My name is Charlene Rocha, my pronouns are she/her and I’m involved in a whole bunch of different causes. My activism first started with environmental activism and I did that through grassroots lobbying. I worked with Fridays and Future for a little bit here and there, but a lot of my environmental activism was mostly independent. Currently, I’m involved with E-Nable Toronto (president) and we 3D print prosthetics for those in need and I’m also participating with the Break the Chains committee [as an executive], which is an organization in my community and we focus on anti-black racism.

How did you get involved with environmental activism? Why did you want to get involved in environmental activism?

It first started when I went to my very first protest with my sister and I was really inspired by the people around me. I didn’t know that there was this world of activism out there that I could get involved in. After that I participated with the Fridays for Future strikes and I helped them organize their strikes. From there having conversations with other youth activists and learning about how they got involved and what their journeys were; I just found out that there are so many different things that I could do to use my own talents to help. I wanted to get involved and really participate as much as these other people were too!

A lot of these kids would give speeches at these strikes and really just hearing about emotion and passion in their voices when they are talking about these things, it just really moves you to want to get involved, and to want to help. When you have these conversations with people, you really get to know what each of their individual stories are. For example, one of the little boys who would do speeches and sing songs at these strikes, I had a conversation with him about his Indigenous community and he was telling me about how whenever he visits the reserve, they don’t really have clean water at all. Hearing a story like that first hand from somebody who feels vulnerable enough to tell you these stories, it really makes you want to get involved and help out anyway that you can.

Is there a current issue that you are particularly passionate about related to environmental activism?

Definitely! I would say a lot of my environmental activism right now involves relating it to Indigenous communities. Last year, I worked with the critical infrastructure defense act campaign. With that we focused not only on trying to dismantle a lot of the pipelines that were being built but we also worked with Indgienous communities to learn about how we could help them and their communities as well. Like there are pipelines built on their land and whenever we talk about environmental activism, we talk about how there are so many different aspects to it and so many different areas that we can focus on. So I definitely think in Canada one of those really big parts is Indigenous activism because a lot of environmental activism is spearheaded by these Indigenous communities and yet they are the people impacted the most by it. So really just thinking and putting it in perspective of how we can help and how we can work alongside them is really important.

What kind of impact have you been able to make through an organization you are a part of or independently?

My focus is rather than making a lot of these bigger actions, doing a lot of more grassroots activism has been my focus with the whole environmental movement. Like it said in the article [Ontario Student Voice Award Winners 2021 – OSTA-AECO], I lobbied my own municipality and with that my main focus was doing again that grassroots activism where you’re tackling your own city; the issues that your city faces, the issues that affect you personally and your own community. Again, I think if we have a whole bunch of different youth activists who are trying to make a difference in their communities on a smaller scale; when you bring that to a bigger scale and you look at it all and all, you get to see that we all have a bigger impact when we are all making smaller actions but doing it together.

What do you mean when you say grassroots?

When I use the word grassroots, I think about something that affects your own community personally, so on a more community based level. A lot of these bigger organizations, while they are huge, they do focus on a grassroots level as well!

Do you think youth environmental activism is important for the future, and if so, why?

Definitely. You know we always talk about how the youth are the future and how we are going to be taking over the world; when we put it into perspective again we are going to be the ones taking over in the next few years - we’re going to be the next leaders, next people who are taking over the government and all that stuff. So, we really want to see our voice represented through activism and also through a lot of the progressions that are being made in our world. I think that environmental activism and youth activism in general is so important for the future because again we are going to be the ones taking over and we want decisions that are being made about us to be including us and to include our opinions and our voices and what we think.

Do you have any tips or advice on how teenagers and youth can get involved in (environmental) activism or what they could do to be more aware?

One piece of advice I always give is to always ask questions especially when you’re first getting involved. A lot of these organizations or groups may seem really intimidating at first and when I was first getting involved it was really intimidating for me too. I didn’t really know too many people who were already involved in activism so I found that by making myself vulnerable and asking those really tricky questions, I was able to get a lot of these questions answered and also get more involved. You know, knowledge is power and when you know more, you’re going to be able to have a larger impact. I would definitely say asking questions is a really big thing and also learning about things that affect you personally; learning about the world around you and if you found a certain issue in your community, what can you do to fix it? Again, a lot of this activism comes from your own experiences and your own thoughts and feelings on a certain issue.

Thank you, Charlene, for letting me interview her on youth environmental activism! If you want to learn more about E-Nable Toronto that was mentioned in this interview, check out their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/torontoenable/!

Article Author: Kelley Liang

Article Editors: Stephanie Sahadeo, Victoria Huang