Here’s the latest interview with a youth climate striker, Jessie Tomlinson. You can read older interviews here.
Who are you?
My name is Jessie Tomlinson, I am a 15-year-old High School student, Extinction Rebellion member, school striker and youth activist, living in South Manchester.
When and how did you first become aware of climate change?
I have always been aware of climate change: as a young child I was conscious of a hazy justification of the way my parents raised me (to use public transport and eat less meat) but through the eyes of childhood the prophesised “global warming” seemed an abstract threat. I think that it was following the first mass protests in London in April this year that I really felt a call to arms. I was filled with a sense of panic that could no longer be pacified by turning off light switches and re-using straws anymore. I had to act.
Talk about your involvement/activities so far- highlights, lowlights?
One of the first things I had to do was get out on the streets for one Friday afternoon every month and stand with striking young people all over the world. But I felt that sacrificing a couple of ours ever 30 days was not an equal opposite reaction to (lets be honest) the looming apocalypse and, afraid of being consumed by apathy – the inevitable anaesthetic for feeling frightened and alone – the next thing was to join a movement.
Every movement ebbs and flows and I was swept to my first Extinction Rebellion meetings on the crest of a great wave of public enthusiasm. It was a chance to meet people from all over Manchester who were just as scared as I was and being surrounded by such brave people gave me the warmth of solidarity and hope. I was part of a fresh batch of eager people power and with so many flocking to join Extinction Rebellion, it became clear that there was a need to decentralise, and digress into affinity groups. So probably the biggest project I have worked on so far has been (along with a team of people from my local area) planning and materialising a launch event for Chorlton Extinction Rebellion group- still taking its first baby steps. I was on a panel of XR members answering questions in a debate style format from the 60-100 or so people who turned up. It was nerve wracking, but necessary, to represent my age group which has been such a fiery catalyst in getting the media attention to the fight against the climate crisis. Our feedback was encouraging, many people voicing the sense of hope and love in the room.
Other than this, my time since Easter has been spent familiarising myself with the way XR functions: making my way to the Monday Manchester meetings and Tuesday Chorlton meetings, attending a meeting with the Co- founder of XR, Roger, seeing the heading for Extinction talk that we offer (twice), reading the newsletters and XR book ‘This is not a Drill’, taking a Carbon Literacy course, attending meetings with Senior Leadership staff at my school to open discussions about how to make the school more sustainable and of course, constantly continuing to strike from school. I am determined to fill my brain with the skills and knowledge I will need to take part in the August – September Northern Rebellion, to make every word I say and write considered, informed and articulate, so it counts.
What would you say to adults who say that you should be in school, learning about things so you can tackle the issue when you’re older?
I would politely point them in the direction of Greta Thunberg’s Ted Talk, because I won’t try and better her expression of the feeling of all youth climate activists: why should I be studying for a future that might not exist?
What practical support would you like to see older people offering to the youth?
I think I will answer this question on a personal level, and then regarding all young people. I am already so certain in my convictions about climate change: I have reached a level of awareness that there is no going back from. It is too late for me to bury my head back in the sand: I can see in lurid clarity our broken poisonous system and I know I will have to fight it all my life. I do not need adults to help me form any more judgements on this: it is enough for me to know that life on earth will cease to exist unless I act now. What I need from older people is the wisdom that accumulates throughout years of experience: how to be persuasive, assertive and yet compassionate in communication, how to confidently speak in public, how to run a campaign for radical social change. This is the help I need.
But I am well aware that not everyone my age is at the same point of conviction. So, for the many young people who are just unaware that we are effectively going through the motions in a burning house, I want the adults to educate, educate, educate. I want climate change to underpin the entire National curriculum, I want everyone to be talking about it all the time in homes and schools across the world so that every young person knows the truth: that we all have to be superheroes now.
The last school strike was quite small and, anecdotally, some students are staying away because they have “been there, done that” or because the police intimidation tactics have worked. What forms of new protests/ activity do you think students and young people need to think about?
I would say that the young activists who organise the strikes need to keep the strikes attractive. The issue here is that it is a long and arduous battle to root in every teenager the urgency that is needed to sacrifice time and energy to protest, especially in the current political climate where everyone is still in denial. We need the numbers on the streets and we are running out of time. So, the strikes need to be re-marketed to tap into what makes young people tick. Maybe one month we set up a temporary skate park and everyone has a lovely afternoon skating with their friends, but with climate banners in school hours. Another month the strike could be publicised as a mini pop up festival, with live performances from young people. Yes, the level of organisation would require more effort, but the fact is that we can’t afford to let momentum slip- and I know so many people who would be willing to put in the extra hours.
Lastly, I would just like to send a brief message to anyone reading this. If you care about anything at all, then you also care about climate change. If you care about gender inequality, class inequality, homophobia, transphobia, racism, hate crime, war, poverty, discrimination, if you care about injustice, in whatever form, then remember this: the equality you are fighting for will never exist without the ground we’re standing on. So let’s fight for that first, together.