National youth organization Zero Hour makes strides in Atlanta

Photo by Ashton Packer | The Signal

On July 21, students from across Atlanta marched in the Youth Climate March to protest climate change. This march was part of a national day of action initiated by activism group “Zero Hour.”

Equipped with picket signs and rhyming chants, dozens of Atlanta protestors marched through Centennial Olympic Park in solidarity. “Hey, hey, ho, ho, fossil fuels have got to go,” the group chanted to hundreds of passersby.

Among the crowd of young organizers, 18-year-old Chris McCaffrey explained his hope for future generations. “It bothers me to think that I have all of these possibilities to experience beautiful, pure places in our world and that my grandchildren might not have that chance,” McCaffrey said.

Created by now 17-year-old Jamie Margolin in Washington, D.C., Zero Hour has branches in several major cities across the county, including Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York.

“The mission of the Zero Hour movement is to center the voices of diverse youth in the conversation around climate and environmental justice. Zero Hour is a youth-led movement creating entry points, training, and resources for new young activists and organizers (and adults who support our vision) wanting to take concrete action around climate change,” the Zero Hour website states.

Atlanta protesters came motivated by the organization’s mission, citing frustration over inaction of elected officials. With almost all protestors under the age of 25, each person came with their own reasoning for the march.

For Isabelle Balaban, a 17-year-old aspiring attorney, climate change is a matter of social justice.

“I’m passionate about a lot of social justice issues and I think this one is really one of the more common-sense issues. I’m here because we have to send a message to the politicians and everyone who’s making policies surrounding climate change that we actually care, we’re watching them and we’re looking out for the planet,” Balaban said.

16-year-old high school student Kailen Kim helped lead Atlanta’s march in hopes of encouraging tangible action.

“We want to not just bring awareness but actually do something. Write letters, go out and knock on doors, and spread the message that climate change is real and that it affects people of color, it affects lower-income families, it affects everyone in the world and I wanted to do something about it,” Kim said.

After the march, a rally gathered in the center of the park as organizers encouraged methods of reducing pollution and promoting action, citing the harmful effects of the meat and seafood industries, plastic usage and long showers.

Powered by the energy of young activism, many members of Zero Hour, like Kim and Balaban, may not yet be old enough to vote. However, McCaffrey said those students can still make a difference.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are to know that the environment is worth protecting. You can say, ‘Hey parents, let’s stop buying straws. Let’s stop buying plastic water bottles.’ We really want to incorporate everyone,” he said.

Though the Atlanta chapter of Zero Hour is relatively small compared to others, 26-year-old Geraldine Linenger was not discouraged and instead said that the organization will continue its mission to protect the planet.

“We’re not only fighting for change, but we are also demanding our elected representatives to do something. It’s been enough. We know that we can do better than what we’re doing today and it’s time to move. It’s a small team here but we’re all over the county and this is just the beginning,” Linenger said.