Eighteen-year-old activist Jamie Margolin recounts how the devastating effects of wildfires and hurricanes, alongside with the negligence of elected officials, led her to create Zero Hour: a youth-led movement aiming to create a global sense of urgency around the climate crisis. This discussion is part of our series reviewing the 2020 Global Communication Report on New Activism, which is available for free download at annenberg.usc.edu/gcr.
At age 15, Colombian-American activist Jamie Margolin organized the Zero Hour Youth Climate March, a youth-led demonstration urging those in power to take concrete measures against climate change. Using traditional PR tactics and leveraging the power of social media, Jamie and her team turned their initial march into a global movement that has more than 100 chapters and continues to inspire children around the world to join the fight for a better future.
This discussion is part of our series reviewing the 2020 Global Communication Report on New Activism, which is available for free download at annenberg.usc.edu/gcr.
Featuring: Jamie Margolin (@Jamie_Margolin), Founder of Zero Hour (@ThisIsZeroHour)
Host: Fred Cook (@fredcook), Chairman of Golin, a global PR firm. Author of “Improvise - Unorthodox Career Advice from an Unlikely CEO” and Director of the USC Center for Public Relations
Follow us: @Center4PR (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram)
Newsletter: News from the USC Center for Public Relations
Visit our website: https://annenberg.usc.edu/research/center-public-relations
#PRFuture Episode 3: Jamie Margolin
Jamie Margolin, Fred Cook
Fred Cook 00:07
Ever since she was a child, Jamie Margolin has felt like her future and the future of those around her has been contingent on a series of ifs: if coral reefs still exist, if the Antarctic hasn't been ripped apart, if climate change hasn't destroyed the world by the time she's 20. The ticking time bomb of constant climate change instilled a sense of urgency in her that also has mobilized thousands of children and teenagers around the world fighting for a single cause: to build a more livable future.
Jamie Margolin 00:45
I've just always been motivated by different causes. I've always just seen the wrong in the world, seen all of the hurt in the world, and wanted to do something about it. And growing up in the Pacific Northwest, seeing all the destruction happening here, but then also seeing the beauty of what should be protected. And then seeing communities grow around polluted areas, it's all very difficult. My family in Colombia, they would be sending pictures of rivers with all the fish washed up and stuff like that because of fracking, and hydraulic fracking completely polluted and poisoned the river – and I guess that anger pushed me to really start taking action. And it's really why I speak out, and then I also got inspired by other activists that were doing this work as well that really pushed me to get into it. But I didn't really start actually officially taking action until I was 14 years old. Even though I had that motivation, before it's just there weren't any resources: No one taught young people how to be activists.
Fred Cook 01:45
Welcome to PR Future, the podcast that delivers interesting insights into the dynamic world of public relations. In our first few episodes, we take a deep dive into what we call “New Activism” to better understand how activists are using traditional PR tools to influence political decision-making and achieve long-lasting change.
Today we're speaking 18-year-old Jamie Margolin from her home in Seattle. Jamie is a Colombian-American activist who started a nationwide movement when she was only 15 years old. The organization she created, Zero Hour, has motivated young people to join the fight against climate change. Jamie's book “Youth to Power” is set to launch in June. Al Gore called it “an essential how-to for anyone of any age, who feels called to protect our planet for future generations.” In this episode, we'll discover how Jamie got her start, where she's going from here, and how she will use communications to get there –even during a global pandemic. I'm Fred Cook from the USC Center for Public Relations at the Annenberg School. And this is #PRFuture.
Fred Cook 03:04
Jamie has always been passionate about contributing to causes that resonated with her. But in 2017, she took her role in the climate movement to the next level.
Jamie Margolin 03:15
So, I was 15 years old when I started Zero Hour. And what made me start it is a combination of things: Donald Trump announced that he was pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate accords, and then on top of that, there was Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and then there was the wildfires. This was all in 2017. So, it was the wildfires both in California and in southern Canada, which blew over the city of Seattle and covered our city in like a thick layer of smog. It made a lot of people unable to breathe; for folks with respiratory illnesses and folks with different diseases, it just made it worse. A lot of people were going to the emergency room…just all of these things combined. Plus, a documentary I saw on Netflix called “Awake, A Dream from Standing Rock,” which was about the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which really also inspired me, and showed me the true power that people can have. I already was doing climate justice organizing, but that all prompted me to take it from the next level of being climate justice organizer to actually starting Zero Hour. And so, the summer of 2017, that's when I began to start creating this organization and really started organizing the Youth Climate March.
With all this happening. I posted on social media, "I'm going to start a youth Climate March, who's with me?" I got a couple of responses. And one of them from was from a girl named Nadia Nazar, who lives in Baltimore, and I'm in Seattle — so we were from opposite sides of the country. But we still decided to come together and work on creating youth climate marches. And then it just grew from there, and just grew and grew and grew.
Fred Cook 04:44
Our survey shows that activism is growing right now around the world and in the United States. And one of the reasons people pointed to that growth was the lack of trust in the government and people becoming disappointed with the political system. Did those factors drive you to start Zero Hour also?
Jamie Margolin 05:04
I think that's part of it. Yeah, you know, what would have happened is there would have gotten started a few years later if it wasn't for that urgency. But I think because the government has been especially incompetent lately, I think that lit the fire under our feet to really make us start this organization. So, I think it plays a part in it. But, you know, no matter who was president right now, we'd still need to be organizing for climate justice.
Fred Cook 05:26
And how did you recruit or join forces with other people around the country and turn this into a real organization?
Jamie Margolin 05:35
There was a lot of social media recruiting. It was also just word of mouth. "Oh, I know these kids that are working on putting together this March. Oh my god, that's so cool, I want to get involved." Okay, one recruit there. "Oh, I know someone from this organization, and she's pretty cool." It just, it all starts to compile from there. And so that's really how we started recruiting. And then once we put on our youth climate marches, and then people who came to our March then joined the organization, and then they told friends, and then on and on and on.
Fred Cook 06:01
Do you think social media is overrated as a communications tool with the fact that everyone is stating their opinions to all their friends and relatives all the time?
Jamie Margolin 06:15
There's pros and cons. You know, I've seen some really “not good” takes on social media…people tend to just use it to make a lot of noise that isn't really helpful. And so, I think there has to be, you have to be careful to make sure that when you use social media you're using it to spread the word about something or to just use it to put out positive energy. I'm overall, I'm glad it exists, like it has really helped propel so many movements that wouldn't have been able to gain traction if it weren't for this media.
Fred Cook 06:47
While social media gave them their start, and is still part of Zero Hour’s communication strategy. Jamie has taken to other channels to tell her story.
Fred Cook 06:58
How does writing fit into your overall communication strategy?
Jamie Margolin 07:03
It's a way that I communicate a message to the masses. I have an ability to write fairly easily, just because I've been a writer since even before I was an activist. I've just always been a writer, and I was able to write fairly easily and publish op eds. I have a book coming out, and things like that to help people to help spread the word about something, to raise awareness. And I think that's a tool that I use and other members in the organizing community also use to raise awareness about issues, and to inform people about issues. And then from there, people can take that information and do what they please with it. But it's really important to have the education and awareness and my writing helps provide that.
Fred Cook 07:39
Jamie, what made you decide to write a book at a time when young people seem to be mainly interested in platforms like TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram?
Jamie Margolin 07:49
I think it's the fact that when I first got involved in activism, there was really no guide or anything. I just felt lost. I was just stepping into this abyss of just so many different things, and I needed something to help me really get into this. And so I decided, I'm going to write the book that I always wished I would have had, like a guide to being a young activist and organizer — I'm going to write that book. And so, I did. And it's coming out June 2, it's called “Youth to Power.” And you can go to youthtopowerbook.com to preorder it.
The way to summarize it is that it's a guide to being a young activist and organizer, with interviews from many different young activists talking about their work and how people can take action on different causes. So, it's not a climate book. It's just a general guide to organizing and mobilizing and having activism accessible for a lot of people who just don't know how to get started.
Fred Cook 08:40
And it's so interesting, because I've worked in public relations my whole career. And when I read about your book, it sounds a little bit like a guide to doing public relations. I mean, many of the tactics that you talk about are the same ones that we employ in our communications work. Do you see that connection, do you have a feeling for the public relations work?
Jamie Margolin 09:03
I mean, I do, I do give young people a lot of tips about you know, how to handle media, how to communicate your movement via social media, different things like that.
Fred Cook 09:10
That's really interesting. And how do you ensure that your message resonates with different audiences?
Jamie Margolin 09:15
There's ways to be joyfully fighting for the world that we want versus just saying no to the world that we don't want. There's a way of communicating the message through joyful methods, like music and art, that can really get a lot of people involved, and get a lot of people intrigued and starting to plug into the movement a bit more.
For each generation or each person that you're talking to, you have to meet them where they're at. So, if you're talking about where you communicate a message, there are certain social media platforms and methods of communication that youth will be on more that you can reach out to us there, and that adults will be on it. But then also, I think it's about meeting the individual that you're talking to where they're at. So depending on what their political ideology is, depending on what it is they care about, depending on where they come from, and what their background is, when you're talking to someone about an issue, you have to meet them where they're at and tie it into something that they care about. There's not like one thing to say to all young people and one thing to say to all adults.
Fred Cook 10:10
Given that people are disillusioned with the government, a lot of people think that businesses can play a role in creating change on social and environmental issues. Do you believe that businesses can be partners for a Zero Hour, and you can work with corporations on climate change issues? Have you had much experience with that?
Jamie Margolin 10:30
We haven't had much experience with that. And you know, it depends who. Not all companies are made equal. And so certain brands and companies might be more willing to actually examine their own practices and work towards change, while some might just want to greenwash and co-opt and use youth climate organizing for advertisements. So, it's kind of a fine line that you have to walk, and you have to be pretty careful. Most of our partners are nonprofits. They go through our partnerships team. So, the way our organization works is that we have different teams within our movement, partnerships, fundraising, social media, etc. And they all work on different aspects of this organization. The partnerships team is in charge of vetting and looking through different partners; a lot of it is, do their values align with what we're fighting for? And then usually we take it from there. It's usually we have a conversation with our partners before we onboard them, making sure that people that work there are people that that we'd be comfortable working with, and really, there are certain criteria. But it's more of just, you take each one and you weigh the pros and cons, and if the pros outweigh the cons, then you work with them.
So, I've had actually a lot of brand deals offered to me of big corporations — clothing companies, makeup companies— wanting me to work with them and advertise for them. And I turned them down because I really don't believe in selling activism as a brand exactly. So things like that, a lot of advertisements, especially for like big companies that don't really align with what I'm doing. Because activism is supposedly trendy at the current moment, a lot of corporations want to like cash in on that. But I've just been, you know, I turned them down. I say no. If I work with a company, it's usually like with Patagonia it was for the climate strikes and raising awareness for that. It wasn't like, "go buy Patagonia stuff," you know. You have to be very mindful in how you do it.
Fred Cook 12:14
While spreading the Zero Hour message through carefully pick partnerships and supporting youth activism with their upcoming book, Jamie has also expanded the organization's programming. Our research has revealed that many activists believe protests are a great way to raise awareness, but they think long lasting change is only achieved through more traditional tactics. Zero Hour’s work has moved from simply mobilizing efforts to actively impacting the political process.
Jamie Margolin 12:44
We don't just do mobilizations now. We do educational campaigns, we do webinars, we do different get out the vote campaigns, our 501(c)(4) endorsed Bernie Sanders in the 2020 primaries. We've been really involved in in all sorts of things. We've been doing a lot of like community organizing with our chapters and growing the movement that way. So, it's grown from a lot more than just mobilizing; we're lobbying to make sure you know, get policies passed. That's also a big thing. In the past, it's been more you know, we talk to politicians about things like the green New Deal. We have lobby days where we have young people go meet with politicians, etc.
Fred Cook 13:21
The Coronavirus pandemic has obviously impacted Zero Hour’s efforts. Like most organizations around the globe, they can't hold any in person events for the foreseeable future. But Jamie says that doesn't mean they aren't still working hard for change.
Jamie Margolin 13:39
Our communications have pretty much stayed the same because we're all over the country and the world. So, we've always communicated via social media, phone call, video chat, text, Slack and different Zoom calls and video conferencing, and so it's pretty much stayed the same. Right now, lately, we see the EPA is rolling back pretty much everything — they're using this virus as an opportunity to make money off of polluting even more, and the fact that everyone is so worried about protecting their families from this virus, that they get away with destroying life on earth. And so, you know, we really have to keep these corporations and this greed in check.
Fred Cook 14:15
Since its foundation Zero Hour has grown into an international movement with more than 25 chapters around the world. Today, they have an ambassador program that delivers presentations about the relationship between climate change and systems of oppression. Jamie connected the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on marginalized communities with environmental racism.
Jamie Margolin 14:38
You know, we're seeing in the news how different black and brown communities are impacted worse from this virus, and that really intersects actually with environmental racism. The way it works is pretty much corporations and polluters target black and brown and poor communities worse because they can get away with polluting their communities. Then then a pre-existing condition that makes you more susceptible to die from the Coronavirus is asthma and respiratory illnesses, and what causes asthma and respiratory illnesses? Pollution. If polluters are disproportionately targeting different, more vulnerable communities, then they're going to be most likely to die and be affected by this virus. And we're already seeing that. So that's a direct correlation of how environmental racism intertwines with this issue.
Fred Cook 15:22
In our survey, we asked communicators what they thought the activist of the future would look like. Many said they will be younger, more female, more urban, more tech savvy, just like Jamie. But Jamie doesn't think this profile of a young activist is anything new. It's just more visible now. And while the future of activism may be hard to predict, she is confident it will be driven by diversity.
Jamie Margolin 15:51
The movement has been diverse for a long time, it's just people haven't been paying attention to the activists of different marginalized identities before, and now people are actually starting to listen more — they are starting to pay attention more to the activists that are doing this work. But it's not like it was never diverse. Like, for example, indigenous folks have been on the frontlines fighting the climate crisis since day one. It's just that wasn't really paid attention to. And so now it's being more paid attention to. I do feel like there is a rise of more young and female activists and that is, I guess, a product of our time. But then also it's this isn't exactly totally new. It's just new for the people who are finally paying attention.
Fred Cook 16:29
Writing a book isn't the only long-form channel this young activist plans to use to change people's minds. Whether she's focused on climate change, diversity and inclusion, or something totally different, It's clear that Jamie will continue using her voice to tell stories that make the world a better place.
Jamie Margolin 16:48
Well, in 5-10 years from now me personally, I’d like to see myself graduating film school, going into Hollywood and making a splash there in terms of representation — in terms of better stories that intertwine with the issues that are happening today. But then also in the activism world, I still see myself also as an organizer. I still see myself mobilizing people, giving speeches, working on passing legislation, really pushing for urgent action. And then I'd see Zero Hour still chugging along, growing even bigger, taking on even bigger campaigns, mobilizing, organizing, and just really continuing to do the work that we do…but just on an even bigger scale that really pushes for actual change.
Fred Cook 17:36
Al Gore knows better than anyone that activism is evolving. And Jamie Margolin is a perfect example of where it's headed. She's young, she comes from a diverse background, and she knows how to deliver a powerful message. Today, everyone has the potential to become an activist, and perhaps in the future, with a little help from Jamie's book, everyone will. To learn more about Jamie's journey and how you can become an activist yourself buy her book at youthtopowerbook.com, or find it on Amazon starting in June.
Fred Cook 18:23
Thanks for tuning in to PR Future, a progressive podcast created for PR professionals by PR professionals. To learn more, tap the link in the show notes to download your copy of “New Activism.” And subscribe to our podcasts on Apple podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.
Today's episode was produced by Ron Antonette, ZaZu Lippert, and Manuelita Maldonado. Special thanks to Cathy Park, Devyn Harrod and Sandra Stanisa, all from the USC Center for Public Relations. I'm your host, Fred Cook. And this is #PRFuture.