Two Bay Area Activists Rally for Earth Day Summit
Oona Clark is 17 years old and a junior at San Domenico School. She came to the Bay Area Youth Climate Summit after working with Sunrise Movement as a freshman and providing voter education on the Green New Deal, and previous work at age 15 to encourage schools across the country to adopt green energy systems.
From her own experience of seeking out an activist hub, she knows how inaccessible activism can feel. “I didn’t know where to start, and I think that’s one of the biggest obstacles for youth activists,” she says. She encourages budding activists to look inwards and assess what they can offer. “Find your niche. What are your strengths? What are your interests? Figure out what you’re good at, what you want to do. There’s going to be a way you can apply it,” she says.
Clark has observed that the celebritizing of select climate activists, while increasing visibility of the movement, can make activism feel out of reach for many people. Through her work on the Summit, she’s working to get youth involved and break down the barriers that keep people from joining the movement.
“There’s a place in activism for everybody—not everybody has to be Greta Thunberg who has devoted her whole life to it. If you can only devote one hour a week that’s fine. If you’re an artist you can share your art. People see activists on TV and don’t think they can do it, but you’ve got to remember that it takes a village. There’s so many people behind each power activist—and you can be one of those people,” she says.
For Clark, the importance of intersectionality in the climate movement is always top of mind, and in her view, that creates more pathways for people of all passions to join in. “For me, I view the climate crisis as very important and that’s what I want to be directly involved in. But all these systemic issues like racism and sexism are connected, so wherever you are, whatever your passion is, it’s all important, and it’s all important right now. And it will make our world better,” she says.
Profiled by Audrey Mei Yi Brown, April 2021
Conversations Artwork below: Sophia Zaleski
Natalie Tam is 17 and a senior at St Ignatius High School in San Francisco, and she’s a Bay Area Youth Climate Summit organizer. After originally discovering the Summit over Instagram, she helped to plan last year’s successful September summit that drew participants from across the U.S.
While she may have connected with the climate summit through Instagram, her motivation to fight for the planet comes from her offline experiences. “I love to go to Ocean Beach and look at the water and the Marin Headlands, and think about how beautiful our planet is, and the fact that we only have one home. We can’t live on another planet. And so many things had to happen to get us here—it’s incredible. We have to protect what we have, and not exploit it,” she says.
Tam hopes that through activism, she can help fellow humans see what she sees at Ocean Beach. “Really take notice of how much we all need nature, water, food, and fresh air, and know that those resources and nature are not infinite. We have to preserve what we have, and not take for granted what later could be gone or destroyed,” she says.
As a youth activist, she feels heard and supported within her school by teachers and administrators, and feels heartened that the new President cares about climate change and believes in science. But on the whole, she has observed that many adults resist the idea of adapting their unsustainable lifestyles because they find the change uncomfortable.
She has learned from personal experience that the best way to encourage people to adopt more sustainable lifestyles is to make alternatives approachable. “A lot of people think it’s out of their control, like I’m just one person and I don’t matter. But really there is so much power in individual change, and you can use your actions—from what companies you support and what food you buy—to create another world.”
Next, Tam will head to UC Davis to study environmental policy. What will keep her energized to keep demanding change? “With everything we see on the news, we have this chance to create a more regenerative future for animals and for humanity. So I feel like we just have to stand up. There’s too much at risk, you know?”
Profiled by Audrey Mei Yi Brown, April 2021