Accessibility and Unity in the Youth Climate Movement During Physical Distancing
by Ilana Zeitzer
On November 8, 2019, I started my own series of digital strikes. I had previously been frustrated that I could not pick up a sign and head to the streets like so many other youth activists. At the time, I was teaching two undergraduate lab classes as a graduate student teaching assistant and missing classes on Fridays meant sacrificing the education of over forty students. I quickly found a community of digital strikers, many of whom also could not physically strike whether due to disabilities, illness, class requirements, or an unwillingness to give up the education their parents sacrificed their lives for. While physical actions are great, digital actions have increased the accessibility and unity of youth climate activism.
On March 11, 2020 Greta Thunberg asked youth activists around the world to help flatten the curve of COVID-19 by avoiding large public gatherings, which are characteristics of physical strikes. With the spread of COVID-19, climate activists are trying to do their part to stop the spread by switching to digital strikes. Activists like Greta Thunberg who regularly physically strike and constantly hold the media’s attention are adjusting to switching from an in-person action to actions on digital platforms. For many activists, this was not a switch but a continuation of a long-running series of digital strikes, just with more attention focused on us. Previously the media has most often focused on youth participating in physical strikes, but a growing online community has been created that defies many of the barriers to participation. It is time we acknowledge that activists who strike online are just as important as those who do so in person.
March 20th was the first example of online unity amongst youth around the world still fighting for our futures even when the present is uncertain in the face of COVID-19. Launching their International Day of Action Polluters Out, an international youth lead coalition, demanded polluters (fossil fuel companies) be removed from the negotiation tables at UN climate meetings, specifically COP26. As a movement, we have learned to replace physical actions with a digital action component. We are working tirelessly to prep and utilize digital platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Zoom to spread our message. Though for many of us we have had little time to prepare digital actions on such large scales, we are excited to be moving forward with more digital actions and campaigns, this includes preparation for Earth Day. We the Planet is an international organization founded to encourage the global community to create change through digital action after global strikes were canceled. We know change is needed and we need the might of the individual and society to make it so.
We are showing the world that youth can unite under a single platform around the world to demand change.
We can transcend borders and distance strengthening our cause through shared experience, cultural understanding, and international participation.
I am excited to see what we create as time moves forward and the lasting impacts our digital strikes have on our movements once we can go outside again. We are dealing with uncertain futures and unknowns in our present time but I am certain this begins a new chapter in climate activism focusing on global community and accessibility to all youth.
About the Author
Ilana Zeitzer is a 23-year-old ecology masters student at SUNY ESF. She is an environmental activist working with We The Planet, Polluters Out, FFF Syracuse and Turning green. Best, Sofía