Words by Abi Scaife
Elijah McKenzie Jackson is passionate about a number of different causes - but in his mind, they are all connected.
“I didn't start out as a climate activist,” explains Elijah. “I started as an animal rights activist. I think that led me to understand why farming is so critically important to climate change and how they intersect so much. When we talk about other issues, they all really boil down to colonialism and climate change.”
Elijah, aged only 19 when he spoke with Smiley News, has been a huge advocate for positive change since he was incredibly young. As a teenager, he campaigned for climate justice, animal welfare, indigenous rights, an end to gun violence and so much more.
It is a lot to take on when he isn't even old enough to earn a full, national minimum wage - but Elijah knows that something has to be done. It doesn't matter that he is still young; change needs to happen, and he is determined to be part of the force that encourages it.
Elijah is one of the organisers of Fridays for Future - an international climate movement organised and led by young people. He is also one of the co-founders of Waic Up, a storytelling non-profit organisation.
“We need younger voices. Children are the most vulnerable people in the world - in society. We haven't been conditioned and that's why we are so powerful, why our age is our superpower,” says Elijah. “Because what we say is truthful. We don't have any alternate motives, we haven't yet been taught that something's good or something's bad - it’s purely the facts and our opinion.”
“I think we will always need young people and I think that's why we have been so successful. That's why we'll continue to be successful - because it will help more generations get on board with activism and use their voice for change.”
Activism isn’t easy though - Elijah knows that more than anyone. Fighting for change involves meeting head-on many of the worldly issues that people struggle to deal with or process, and that can be incredibly difficult. For Elijah, he has found that the way he processes his feelings - whether that is anger, grief or stress - is also a great way to encourage change.
“People go out and party to process. That might be healthy for them. People can hang out with their friends or they can read books. But for me, I find it quite hard to articulate myself sometimes,” says Elijah. “Painting … it's just me in a room, and that's it. It can be hours and hours, and it feels like one minute."
"I think it gives me time to understand how I'm feeling and understand how I can make a change in a more dynamic way. I am a teenager on a dying planet, so [that’s] hard for anyone - having time to sit and think is always really important to me,” he explains.
As an artist, Elijah knows that art is one of the great catalysts of change. His art has tackled issues such as climate change and the Paris Agreement, gun violence and indigenous rights. It allows him to mentally process these issues while bringing public awareness.
Issues such as the climate emergency can be terrifying; coming to terms with what the Earth is going through, seeing what is being done to it - well, it can make it easy to lose hope. But over the course of his activism, Elijah has come to terms with the magnitude of the issue, finding a new, more positive, perspective.
“I have depression. I've had it since I was 15 years old," he says. "But like if your house is flooding, you'll try and turn off the tap - it's not going to get rid of the water, but at least you tried something. It's the same with climate change. If you're not doing anything, why are you here? To feel sad or anxious and to feel like you want to act means that at least 1% of you has hope, and that alone is amazing.”
This hope is what drives Elijah to do climate activism and to persist regardless of the enormity of the issue.
“It took me a really long time to understand that the reason I was doing activism. The reason I was speaking out is because I knew there was a possibility of a better future. There was this one ounce of me which had light and I think that's important for everyone to understand.”
To learn more about Elijah and the work he is doing, and to support him and his activism and artwork, you can visit his website here.
At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.
The Climate Coalition. This is the UK's largest group of people dedicated to action against climate change. Find out more and support them here.
Climate Reframe. Climate Reframe is committed to supporting the climate and environment movement in its transformation towards greater justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI). Find out more.
Rewilding Britain. They aim to tackle the climate emergency and extinction crisis, reconnect people with the natural world and help communities thrive. Find out more here.