Bonded in crises: youth activism in the face of COVID-19, racial injustice, and climate change
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This is a year-long ethnographic study of high-school student activists in the New England area that examines youth perceptions of climate change and climate change activism. Our society often devalues the opinions and experiences of young people because of the intersecting marginalized identities they inhabit, including age, race, and gender. Thus, discussions on how climate activism affects youth tend to lack the perspective of the young people themselves. Through a combination of participant-observation and semi-structured interviews, I sought to answer the following research questions: 1) How do young activists in the New England area understand climate change? 2) How does participating in a youth-centered climate justice organization impact their overall sense of well-being? About half-way through the planning of this research study, the coronavirus pandemic swept the world, which added another layer to this research study: 3) How does the COVID-19 pandemic impact youth perceptions and experiences of climate change activism? In this thesis, I argue that young people in this climate organization, through their shared experiences of cultivating social capital, expanding critical consciousness, and adaptive redefining of social relationships, develop a strong and sustained sense of community that motivates them to continue their activism. In a society that undervalues young people, these youth actively reclaim agency and use this to challenge the structures that continue to perpetuate environmental injustice. This in turn provides these young people with a heightened sense of well-being in the face of multiple existential threats that threaten their current and future existence, namely racial injustice, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the potential destruction of their planet.
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