By Amina Castronovo, Jade Lozada & Jayola Reid
At Girls Write Now, two themes weave so many of our stories together: racial justice and immigration. Now, we all have one more in common: the COVID-19 pandemic. Though these causes may seem like separate injustices, they are all interconnected and inextricably linked to another one of the most urgent issues of our time: the climate crisis.
Here’s how: It all begins with the indigenous peoples of the Americas, whose tribal lands were stolen, renamed and commodified. To this day, tribal lands are sold to oil drilling companies, whose projects threaten the safety of indigenous peoples’ water, their autonomy and the biodiversity of their lands—and come back to haunt us all in the form of carbon emissions. At the Girls Write Now office in Midtown Manhattan, we are standing on the land of the Munsee Lenape.
But it doesn’t end there. We usually say immigrants come here searching for the American Dream, the economic opportunity they didn’t have at home. Why is that? Because the same world-dominating corporations are gouging their land for food for the “First World,” and paying people in “developing” countries so little for their labor so they have no choice but to migrate. Not to mention that these corporations waste years of drinking water on fast fashion, and emit incredible amounts of carbon to produce and transport their goods across oceans. And, of course, those emissions are already beginning to impact those same “developing” countries with drought, dangerous heat, hurricanes and floods.
When migrants do show up at the border, they’re subjected to racism and xenophobia. We came of age watching children being separated and caged. Watching ICE go after immigrant communities not so different from ours. Whether we knew it or not, we have always been watching the climate crisis play out before our eyes.
Black Lives Matter Is a Climate Issue, too. The poorest congressional district in the country is Mott Haven in the South Bronx. Unfortunately, it has also been burdened with another undesirable title, “Asthma Alley,” due to the fact that asthma rates here are eight times higher than the national average. Of course, parents would not choose to raise their children in a neighborhood subjected to such inhumane circumstances, but for many families whose household income falls beneath the poverty line, there is no choice.
A number of factors contribute to the poor air quality in Mott Haven, but perhaps the biggest are heavy diesel truck intensive companies set in this location, such as Fresh Direct. These low-income families of color have suffered from disproportionate rates of COVID cases, as well. Did you know Black people are exposed to 1.5 times more pollutants than white people, and Latinx suffer 1.2 times more pollutants? The impacts of the horrible air quality in the South Bronx remain unaddressed by the New York City Department of Education, as climate justice education has not been implemented in the public school curriculum.
Shouldn’t students know what kind of air we’re breathing? Why hasn’t this long-standing issue been resolved? The same reason the Flint Water Crisis is in fact still a crisis—poverty and lack of political power. Water and air pollutant crises are all a part of a larger crisis, the climate emergency. In order to address the larger issue at hand, we must acknowledge the unique effects impoverished communities face due to environmental racism.
So What Can You Do? Tell Your Story.
What comes to mind when you think of stories that have impacted and empowered our society? Rosa Parks refusing to move from her seat. The Stonewall Riots leading to the legalization of LGBTQ+ marriage. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s journey from bartender to the youngest congresswoman of the United States.
Stories demand change because they stir up emotion and kick issues out into the limelight, all the while providing a gateway for people to tap into the power of vulnerability. If you don’t know what your story is, consider how society is consistently asking you to rehumanize yourself. That is your story. It is your most powerful tool as an activist because it is unique to you.
When trying to influence policymakers, your unique story is what will make you stand out and feel more empowered.
Impactful Lobbying in 3 Steps
Lobbying is meeting with an elected official about an issue. Anyone can schedule a meeting and it’s the official’s job to hear from you, their constituents. During a lobby meeting, there is a storyteller who will connect to the representative with emotions and vulnerability.
Why is storytelling so important in activism? It humanizes issues and molds our perspective.
- Plan out the who, what and when to schedule your meeting.
- Organize, research and strategize with your team.
- Hold the meeting. Remember to take notes and have a group picture that you can post on social media to hold your representatives accountable. Make sure to also follow up via email.
Your Story Is a Living Catalyst!
Our organizations are leading campaigns for mandatory climate education in New York public schools, and we’ve provided you with a toolkit to join the movement. This is not a moment; This is momentum. The climate crisis needs your story now.
Climate Justice Activist Resources
- Everything You Need to Execute a Successful Lobby Meeting
- Storytelling Toolkit
- Lobbying and Storytelling-in depth
More Climate Justice Organizations
- Our Climate
- National Wildlife Federation Education Task Force Youth Steering Committee
- DOE Sustainability Youth Leadership Council
- New York Youth Climate Leaders
- TREEage Hive
Jade Lozada is a class of 2020 Girls Write Now mentee based in New York, NY.
Jayola Reid is a Girls Write Now mentee. Her mentor, Ashley Okwuosa, says, “Jayola is a gem and being paired with her throughout this process has been incredible. She is smart, self-assured and confident. She is not afraid to speak her mind and is constantly looking for ways to improve herself, whether it's with writing or the activities she does in her spare time, like debate. Jayola is bold and thoughtful. She came into the program sure of who she is and I hope that she leaves the program even more sure that she belongs in every room she walks into and that the future is hers for the taking.”
Amina is a junior in high school in Manhattan. She is a Field Advisor for Our Climate, a core member of the DOE’s Sustainability Youth Leadership Council, a member of the Climate and Resilience Education Task Force’s Youth Steering Committee, and a co-leader of her school’s environmental club. Amina is also a lobby lead with New York Youth Climate Leaders and part of New York Renews’ Media Strike Team. She is a mentee at Girls Write Now, and she has been published in multiple publications. Amina has started an internship with Councilman Mark Levine’s campaign for Manhattan Borough President.