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Student leadership at LCOY

Emma Lewins
November 1, 2022
Jodie Bailey-Ho, left, with fellow former SOS-UK student staff Jude, Jamie and Zaqiya, and Jamie Agombar, Executive Director of SOS-UK.

Last week we attended the Local Conference of Youth UK in Manchester. Jodie, a campaigner with Teach the Future and Mock COP, delivered a speech about taking climate action as a young person. Below is her speech.

Hello everyone! I'm Jodie Bailey-Ho, my pronouns are she and her, I am 18 years old (which, to me, almost feels too young to be giving this speech), I go to the University of Manchester - which is, of course, where we are now, and I study environmental science. Bit more about me - I've been volunteering and working at the crossroad of climate, youth, and education for about 3 years, with organisations like the UK Student Climate Network, Teach the Future, and Mock COP. Last year I co-founded Teach the Teacher (a project bringing students into their own classrooms to give their educators a workshop on climate change), we brought that to COP26 with the UK Department for Education and after we helped feed into the new climate change and education strategy which launched earlier this year.

Enough of that - it’s great to be here speaking to you at LCOY, and of course, amazing to see so many young people wanting to be involved in climate action ahead of COP27. Whether this is your first time doing anything climate-related, or if you happen to be a seasoned campaigner - thank you for coming and making a step towards meaningful change in your lives, in the lives of people in the UK through the youth statement, and also the lives of people globally - LCOY is a YOUNGO initiative and your thoughts here today will feed into the international conference of youth in Egypt later this year. Thanks for staying to listen to me as well - I know you must have had an incredibly long day so far.

When I first started talking to Jamie and Eddie about speaking at this event, I was a little overwhelmed - the whole theme of this conference and LCOY, in general, is to boost youth climate action locally and nationally but also to empower young people. And in some ways I found that really hard as a starting point, because the idea of 'making a difference' as a young person is not only a huge and actually slightly contentious topic in the climate movement, but it's also one that's really really hard to get your head around because of the scope that climate change covers in every day life and in the media. What I mean by that, is that it's hard to picture yourself as being significant when the scale of the problem is so all-encompassing - and I know a lot of people, especially young people, feel the same way.

You might have noticed I put 'making a difference' in quotation marks there. It's because I think it's such a silly, awful phrase. Anyone can make a difference. I promise you, it's not that hard. You might be thinking, what on earth is this girl on about "its not that hard". Three years ago, I thought the exact same thing. Please believe me when I tell you I had absolutely no clue. This was around the time that Greta Thunberg was all over the front pages, when the school strikes were gathering hundreds of thousands of students in the same city, mobilising millions worldwide on a single day. I wasn't allowed to go to the strikes (which is fair enough, it's a privilege to be able to protest or even think about doing it), but I didn't know what to do, because here was this prime opportunity right in front of me, and I couldn't reach out and take it. I think that's a situation or a similar situation that is constantly echoed in people's lives depending on various privileges and intersectionalities (if you were in the SOS-UK workshop). And that insignificance I talked about a minute ago really hit me.

That’s the first roadblock in harnessing your power to create change - getting out of that insignificance mindset. Because young people have so much power, we have so much power, but a lot of people either don’t realise or aren’t really sure where to start with that. But the thing is, I think there’s only one thing you really need to overcome this hurdle. There’s this one thing, and after you do it you have the ability to go out and be this amazing campaigner, and run your own projects, and become this fantastic agent for change. And it’s so easy, because you don’t even need to have any sort of plan. I feel like I’m hyping this up like those ads on youtube that tell you not to click skip. Anyway - I actually plan on telling you what this miracle action is. And it’s to take the first step. 

Some of you might not know what that first step is for you - and that’s okay. Some of you may have already taken that first step, and actually, are significantly into your climate journey already, and that’s okay too. The reality is, that just by being here today, and hearing from some incredible people and organisations, you’ve already made that first leap of faith. And from here is where the fun starts. Because all you need to do now is see your next step. And once you’ve taken that, see your next step, and then the one after that, and the one after that. 

Let me give an explanation on how I used that idea in my life in practice. Rewind to 2019, when I was stumped because I couldn’t go to the protests. At this point I did 2 things - I started the eco-club in my school, and I joined UKSCN (UK Student Climate Network), and I did rthose things, because they seemed really easy for me at the time. Those 2 actions gave me 2 routes into campaigning - one on a local level, and one on a national level - and depending on the kind of volunteering that you’re interested in, you’ll be able to find opportunities at both of those scales with a quick google or a dm. That was my first step. I did that for a while, and focussed on building things up within my school and then linking that into the education outreach work I was doing with UKSCN. And the thing is, is that I had never done anything like that before - especially because it was all online through zoom and slack which was very new to me - but it was amazing to be part of something bigger, with people that want the same thing as you, all working together and supporting each other. I made some of the closest friends I’ve ever had in the first 6-8months I did climate work, so even if you’re sort of taking the first step by yourself, you’re not alone, and you never will be. Find your people, your team, your friends, and support each other in what you do. Because activism and campaigning isn’t just about this common goal you have, its about bringing up and amplifying other people’s voices, being a united front, and succeeding together, as one.

After that, I found that things really started to snowball in terms of being part of projects. In April 2020, I joined Teach the Future - a student led UK campaign lobbying for integrated, mandatory and assessed climate education, and I really went in over lockdown on developing and growing as a campaigner through TtF. One thing I love about Teach the Future is that it continues to grow, new people are constantly getting involved, there’s always plans for the next event or the next action, or meetings with MPs and representatives to try and climate education on the cards. Getting involved in a campaign and throwing yourself into it, is some of the best advice I could give - not only do you develop necessary skills really quickly, the people that you meet could be the ones you start that project with, or go to that demonstration with, but equally, you’re working towards that common goal, and when everyone is really pushing for it together, you get there!

It’s funny, because quite a bit of the stuff we’ve done over the past 3 years hasn’t felt doable until we actually pulled it off. After volunteering in Teach the Future for a while, we had the idea to start Mock COP with SOS-UK as a way to amplify global youth voices over the period that COP26 was meant to be held in 2020 - obviously having been postponed due to the pandemic. It was an online virtual conference where we brought together young people from across the world for two weeks, to discuss the ambition we wanted to see from world leaders at the real COP26 in 2021. Somehow, we did that in 4 months. There was a period of time when I genuinely did not think anyone would sign-up - but it came down to that mindset of seeing your next step and taking your next step. And so we, as a team, did one thing at a time - applying for funding, setting up social media, reaching out to speakers, opening applications for delegates. We took those steps together. And we ended up with over 300 young people from 140 countries. I’d say that’s quite successful.

So what empowerment ideals have we got then? Visualising and taking one step at a time, and supporting others as they support you. What’s the next then? This is one that I call “it’s not all or nothing”. As an activist and a campaigner, you do not need to be perfect. At all. For me personally, this is something that I really struggled with for a while, and there was a lot of guilt there for things that I wasn’t doing, or that I was, but I thought shouldn’t. Everything all at once, is not accessible to a lot of people, and in some ways, it’s not healthy to put that pressure on yourself to uphold what might be an impossible standard in your life. You don’t need to always be vegan, to never buy fast fashion, to never set foot in a car or a plane - obviously, all of those things help to combat climate change as an individual, and if you are doing those things, that’s something to be proud of. But EVERY action you take to tackle this crisis will help, so if you stumble, or fall, or don’t really know what you’re doing at points - and believe me I’ve been there, and so has everyone else - that is more than fine. The parallel issue to that, is that systemic change will always do far far more for climate action than one person can on their own. But the two go hand in hand, so whether you’re campaigning, or implementing a lifestyle change, or both, you are doing your part and you’re taking that step (whether the first, or third, or fiftieth in your journey). And of course, if you don’t like or don’t feel comfortable with some forms of activism, then do it in a way that suits you.

Having been taking those steps for a while, I’ve kind of figured out what I love doing, what I’m best at - and if you haven’t figured out, that’s climate education. Of course, there are some great campaigns for that like Teach the Future, Mock COP has some great stuff, the UK Schools Sustainability Network, and there are so many more to be involved with - I’ve just spoken for about 10 minutes about campaigning. But the flipside to that is just as important - there’s also climate education for you, for your teachers, your parents, your friends. The education system is built around young people’s learning, but it is not made for us or made with us. We’re not educated in buildings that work with the message of ‘promoting climate action’, and we’re not learning about climate change in the subject areas we’re interested in - whether that’s art, or history, or maths. And so until that’s fixed - and I’m sure it will be with the incredible lobbying efforts of the projects I’ve spoken about - we’ll have to do it ourselves. That includes listening to other people about their experiences and reading articles about climate change, yes, but it also means helping others get there too.

What I’m really trying to get at here is a sneaky bit of Teach the Teacher promo, because not only is it a great way to tackle some of the issues within the wider education system (research shows that 70% of teachers don’t feel adequately equipped to teach their students on climate change), but getting young people up on a platform to talk about issues they care about in front of even a small audience is so powerful. Teach the Teacher supports young people to go into their schools, give their teachers a workshop, and start making change at a scale that will directly impact them. I think the best part is that all the resources are already made for you, and so whilst you’re ‘teaching your teachers’, you might even be learning a little yourself.

Similarly, there’s another project called Teach the Parent - a bit of a spin off from TtT - it’s basically a really informal conversation you can have with your parents and friends about climate change. It’s so important just to be talking about these things without putting too much pressure on the outcome.

At the end of the day, the outcomes will get there, if you trust the process and do all the things we’ve talked about today. If you had told me three years ago that I would be a part of the team doing such incredible things, I would have laughed straight in your face. I was never ultra-confident or outgoing, but you don't have to be - there’s a place for everyone in the climate movement regardless of who you are or what your interests are. I did all of this at my desk with a laptop and a dodgy internet connection. Trust me when I say no matter who you are, you have so much power; all you need to do is harness it.