Youth to Power

Your Voice and How to Use It


By Jamie Margolin

Foreword by Greta Thunberg

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**Winner of the 2020 Nautilus GOLD Award for YA Nonfiction**

"Jamie Margolin is among the powerful and inspiring youth activists leading a movement to demand urgent action on the climate crisis. With determined purpose and moral clarity, Jamie is pushing political leaders to develop ambitious plans to confront this existential threat to humanity. Youth To Power is an essential how-to for anyone of any age who feels called to act to protect our planet for future generations."
— Former Vice President Al Gore
Climate change activist and Zero Hour cofounder Jamie Margolin offers the essential guide to changemaking for young people.
The 1963 Children's March. The 2016 Dakota Access Pipeline protests. March for Our Lives, and School Strike for Climate. What do all these social justice movements have in common?
They were led by passionate, informed, engaged young people.
Jamie Margolin has been organizing and protesting since she was fourteen years old. Now the co-leader of a global climate action movement, she knows better than most how powerful a young person can be. You don't have to be able to vote or hold positions of power to change the world.
In Youth to Power, Jamie presents the essential guide to changemaking, with advice on writing and pitching op-eds, organizing successful events and peaceful protests, time management as a student activist, utilizing social and traditional media to spread a message, and sustaining long-term action. She features interviews with prominent young activists including Tokata Iron Eyes of the #NoDAPL movement and Nupol Kiazolu of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, who give guidance on handling backlash, keeping your mental health a priority, and how to avoid getting taken advantage of.
Jamie walks readers through every step of what effective, healthy, intersectional activism looks like. Young people have a lot to say, and Youth to Power will give you the tools to raise your voice.





The first time I heard of Jamie Margolin was in May 2018. We were a group of young people who were trying to organize a Zero Hour march in Sweden for the international day of action on July 21. It was just a few weeks before I started school striking outside the Swedish parliament.

Before that I basically hadn’t met any young person who seemed to care about the climate, the environment, or our future survival on this planet. My idea of the youth today was that we were lazy, self-centered, and didn’t spare the climate and ecological crisis even a second of our thoughts. I remember feeling so alone, it seemed as if no one my age saw what was going on around us or even wanted to make a difference—apart from people like Jamie Margolin.

Since then, I have been proven wrong over and over again. It turned out that countless young people felt just like I did. That our generation wanted to not only change the world but also save it. We just didn’t know how. We didn’t know how to turn our frustration and despair into something that could help push us in the right direction. And that, I think, is what’s holding us back from taking action and stepping out of our comfort zones.

The more people I meet, the more I travel and get to experience, the more convinced I am that the solution to the climate and ecological crisis—as well as to many other crises—is simple: it is the people.

Above all, the young people. The power we hold within us is invincible. It is we who together are going to solve this. What we need to do now is to figure out a way to channel that power and that strength into action.

I think that tipping point we are all waiting for will happen when we the youth truly realize what we together can accomplish. I know we will pass that point sooner or later, and deep down you probably know it too. The question is just when that tipping point will come and whether it will come in time.

Since Zero Hour started, things have begun to move. But not nearly enough. And somehow it seems like we still are stuck. So right now we are in desperate need of guidance and something that tells us what the next—or sometimes even the first—steps are and how to take them. That is why we need books like this one.

We need to be given the tools with which we can change the world. And in this book, you can find them.

Greta Thunberg

November 12, 2019

Greta Thunberg was born in 2003. In August 2018 she started a school strike that became a movement called Fridays for Future, which has inspired school strikes for climate action in more than 150 countries, involving millions of students. Thunberg has spoken at climate rallies across Europe and at the United Nations COP24 in Poland and the World Economic Forum in Davos. In September 2019 she spoke in New York City at the UN Climate Action Summit. She has won the prestigious Prix Liberté and been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.



In times of darkness, what has saved people, countries, and movements has been ordinary folks having the courage to speak truth to power.

But our world doesn’t exactly encourage dissent.

From the minute we are tossed into preschool we are told, Be quiet, raise your hand if you want to speak, listen to authority always, put your head down and do your work, and never question anything you are told. Memorize information and regurgitate it back onto a piece of paper. We are told, If you follow the rules, there is a safe and clear path ahead of you: get good grades and you’ll be successful. Study hard for a bright future.

But what happens when there is no future to study for? What happens when, for example, your generation is being left with a planet that is soon going to be unable to sustain human civilization because of climate change?

Then the cookie-cutter rules we are supposed to follow no longer apply. That safe and clear path of following the steps of the school system into a bright and successful future no longer works in a climate-change-warped world where we are guaranteed no tomorrow.

And unfortunately, all that memorizing, studying, and rule following we got so good at won’t help us save ourselves. The longer you live in a world that sees you as just another cog in the machine, the more your eyes glaze over the injustices in front of you—and the less you question.

Many adults in today’s society (not all of them though, and shout-out to the indigenous elders who have been fighting the good fight long before I was born) have pretty much lost their will to question and rebel, or their energy is drained from doing so their entire life. Don’t get me wrong, our elders have lots of wisdom and experience to share with us, and to make changes in the world, our movements must be intergenerational. We cannot pit generations against each other or forget the decades of hard changemaking work that came before us. Erasing the work of our ancestors is extremely disrespectful and harmful to our own work because we are shutting ourselves off from knowledge of the past. We the youth are standing on the shoulders of the changemakers before us, and we must always acknowledge and respect that. Still, a lot of the action adults in power are currently taking to combat the biggest issues our generation is facing, like climate change, operates according to the same oppressive logic and methods that created the issues in the first place.

But young people? We are yet to be broken and burned out. We are still closer than adults to that part of ourselves that is full of questions, challenges, and a refusal to accept the state of the world around us. We have fresh energy, insight, and a unique power to create change in our world. What we get in trouble most for at school is usually questioning the rules. But questioning the rules may actually be where our greatest power lies.

People often joke that young people are always on the right side of history, but I believe it is a full truth, not just a witty joke. History has proved that we are always on the right side of history over and over again.

Who helped Martin Luther King Jr. win crucial civil rights battles while he was in jail and beginning to lose hope? Youth. The Children’s March in Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1960s changed the game in the civil rights movement and led to the end of segregation.

Who started the revolutionary #NODAPL movement to try to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline? Youth. The indigenous youth of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation went against the orders of their elders and started a movement that forever changed how we fight the fossil fuel industry and united Native communities like never before.

The voices of young people are so powerful because we have the moral high ground on pretty much every issue you can name.

We didn’t create any of the systems of oppression that hold us and our world down; they were thrust upon us at birth whether we liked it or not. We have no hidden agenda.

Youth have nothing selfish to gain from our activism. There is hardly ever any monetary reward for being an activist, and any fame that comes along with it is rare and usually meager and fleeting.

Youth don’t speak out of a corrupt motive. We speak truth to power because we genuinely want change and to create a better world. And this is why the voices of youth are so pure and powerful, why they always have been, and why they always will be.

Young people, despite our society conditioning us to follow the rules blindly, still have that knack for seeing right through the BS we are fed. The youth right now are the truth right now—and it’s always been that way. Whether the adults who run our society admit to it or not.

My name is Jamie, as of this writing I’m in high school, and there is absolutely nothing special about me. I wasn’t born into a political family, an activist family, or a rich family. No one held my hand and walked me through the changemaking process. I was (and still am) just a girl trying to survive high school without losing my mind, who also happens to be fed up with the corruption and irresponsibility of leaders and the crumbling unlivable world my generation is being left with.

This is the book I desperately wished I had when I was fourteen and just starting my activism journey, with no clue of what I was getting into. Every word within these pages is the true, unfiltered advice and experiences of a young activist who wants to make sure other youth activists have a guide to doing this work from someone in the same situation who actually knows what it’s like.

Within these pages you’ll find my inside scoop on movement building, community organizing, nonprofits, and making change. This is a guide to being a young changemaker. The world of changemaking can be thrilling and empowering, and it can give you a sense of hope and relief in the face of the challenges you’re up against.

I have spoken to many amazing young people with so much to say and so much to offer the world who were convinced that they were not good enough. These incredible activists (whose conversations made me change the way I worked and functioned for the better) were still convinced they weren’t smart enough, brave enough, or whatever enough to be changemakers.

Whoever told you that you don’t belong in the political world or that you do not have what it takes to fight for a cause is full of it. You (Yes, YOU!) belong with us, the young people changing the world.

You are one of us. Welcome.

This journey of being an activist is something I would not trade for anything else in the world. Wherever you are in your journey is okay—whether you’re still a bit nervous about dipping your toe into the tumultuous waters of making an impact, or whether you are confident and ready to go but just need the right guidance to move forward. If lobbying your elected officials is scary to you, if you’re nervous about getting into protests and community organizing, that’s totally okay! Just because you are uncomfortable speaking up now doesn’t mean you’ll never get there. In your activism journey you will find allies along the way; you will grow and learn and evolve, and wherever it is you want to be, you will get there, I promise. I know because not very long ago I was you. I was an insecure fourteen-year-old, worried and scared about the state of the world, with no clue how to get started.

Just like I wish someone would have done for me when I began my activism, I will keep it real and tell you everything. The good and the bad. What to watch out for, problems I dealt with (so you know how to navigate them!), and all of that tough stuff that tends to get brushed over with flowery font and inspirational blanket statements.

As a chronically exhausted high school student with too much homework who’s running an international movement, I don’t have time to sugarcoat. What you get in this book, on top of advice and strategies, are my real stories about life as a youth activist: from joyfully protesting outside the Supreme Court in a bitter cold torrential rainstorm, to a fossil fuel lobbyist creepily grabbing my shoulder and calling me “sweetie,” to dealing with all the challenges of the internal workings of a large organization. I’ve also placed excerpts of interviews with other young activists who inspire me at the end of every chapter so you can get other perspectives on the diversity of social justice work out there. You can read the full interviews online at My hope is that these stories help guide you, inspire you, give you courage—and in some cases serve as a perfect example of what not to do.

My reality and that of all changemakers isn’t a montage of flashy protest footage set to dramatic music. The pictures you see on social media of majestic-looking young people marching triumphantly are not even close to the full story. Most of my life (and the lives of all the youth activists I know and work with) consists of trying to get through my inbox while juggling homework and extracurriculars, and taking back-to-back video conference calls during breaks in my school’s badly lit costume closet. It makes the video of me look like I have four chins no matter what angle I try.

This book is your guide to causing good trouble, unlearning everything you’ve been taught before, disrupting the status quo, making your voice heard, challenging problematic authority, changing the culture, changing laws, and yes, changing the world.

This is the manifesto of the youth revolution.

Dog-ear it, write in it, read it out of order, highlight what you want, rip out pages and tape them to your bedroom wall, flush it down the toilet if that’s what helps you process information better—I won’t be offended (or maybe don’t; that would clog your toilet).

I am in the same boat as you, and I’m not going to order you around and act like I’m better than you or pretend to know everything. The truth is, I am still learning, just like you. We’re in this together.

This is your guide to starting your own revolution, whatever that means to you.

Join me.

Keep reading, and we can be scrappy activists together.

Scrappy activists who win.




The first and most important step to being an activist is to find your why.

Before we get into any specifics of how one goes about community organizing and movement building, this is the foundational step of your changemaking journey: making it clear to yourself why you are an activist and what exactly it is you are fighting for.

It is critical to ground yourself in what you’re fighting for before jumping in headfirst and to continue keeping yourself grounded throughout the whole journey. Having a clear reason and intention for what you are doing helps lead you in the right direction. There are so many organizations, causes, groups, and methods to create change, it can be hard to choose a path if you don’t have a strong grounding reason why.

Why is not a specific goal—it’s the core driving reason for you to be doing what you are doing. Your why is something that will likely never change; it is what you are fighting for that you cannot live without.

It’s not your short-term goals or even your long-term goals. Your why is not media attention or even organizing a protest, stopping a pipeline, or any specific goal or target, because those change. Let’s say you defeat the pipeline. You stage the protest. You get tons of media for your activism—what happens then?

Every activist has a why. Think about it this way—every protest you attend, every event you organize, every article you write, every job you take or don’t take are all just strategies to get to and serve your why. They are not the end goals in themselves. Every campaign you take on, conference you attend, and speech you give—they are all tiny steps, tiny puzzle pieces, part of the strategy to get to your why and serve it.

Every single action you take going forward needs to serve your why. That’s how you’re going to be successful. That’s how you’re going to stick with it in the long run and make that change you have been striving for.

My why is the cause that when I turn off all distractions, all external feedback, all noise and really just live with myself for a moment always stays the same. It is protecting the Pacific Northwest, where I grew up.

If there’s one lesson for you to take away from this entire book it’s that every tip and trick about movement building and organizing is going to be a waste of your time unless you find your why.

So, tell me, Why are you doing this?

Why are you an activist?

Why are you joining a movement?

Why are you starting a movement?

Why are you fighting for change?

Is it a place you love that is deeply dear to you that you cannot bear the thought of losing?

Is it someone in particular you’re fighting for? A person, community, or group of people?

Is there something that happened to you or someone you love that you want to make sure never, ever happens to anyone again?

Is there something you live with and are going through that you need the world to understand?

Is it because someone showed you how you participated in an unjust system and you want to help others break free too? Because you or your ancestors participated in a culture of harm that you feel activated to try to repair?

Take some time alone, however long you need, and mull this over. There’s no rush. Finding your why does not mean that you have to lock yourself in a room for a week and wrack your brain until you find it. It does not mean you are barred from attending a protest or rally or community organizing meeting until you find it. Usually, finding what makes you tick is an active process that involves self-reflection and experimentation. You can attend all sorts of events and activities and explore what you are fighting for freely, openly, and unrestrictedly. Also keep in mind that your why doesn’t have to be something out of this world, grand, or extraordinary.

For example, for Natalie Mebane, a beloved adult mentor of mine, her why is a bay she loves in Trinidad and Tobago, where she spent most of her childhood. Natalie is a climate justice activist, and when I asked her, “Why are you doing this work?” she simply sent me a picture of that bay where she played with her family as a kid. It’s a place beloved to her, that is part of her heritage as a Caribbean woman that she takes pride in, that is being destroyed by climate change. She would be heartbroken to live without it. Natalie always tells me, if she had all the money in the world, she would spend every second of her days in that bay in Trinidad and Tobago. It’s what she is truly fighting for. It keeps her rooted no matter what her job as an organizer throws at her.

So, get to a quiet place where it’s just you and your thoughts. Remove all distractions and external influences. Turn off your phone and just have a good old honest chat with yourself. Be the annoying toddler who won’t stop asking why. When you first try to give yourself shallow, superficial answers, keep probing “why” until you can’t go any deeper.

I’ll share my why with you: why I am a climate justice activist, why I started my organization, why I’m suing my government, why I speak out is to protect the beautiful Pacific Northwest. It is where I was raised, the only place I remember living, where I wrote this book, and it is in my very biased opinion the most beautiful place in the world. Although I was born in Los Angeles and my mom is an immigrant from Colombia, and although I plan to live all over the United States and maybe spend some time in my mom’s home country in South America, the Pacific Northwest will forever own my heart. The mountains and hills and oceans and flora and fauna and the culture and life of Seattle is what I live for. My why, when you boil it down, is defending the sacred life of the Pacific Northwest. I could not live without the crisp air, the tall evergreens, the salty ocean, the birds, the salmon, the deer, the bears, the seals, the orcas, the smell of the cedars right after it rains.

I am not a religious person. The closest feeling I have to spirituality is the sacredness of the Pacific Northwest environment around me… and climate change is threatening all of it. The ecosystems of the ocean and all of their marvelous life are unraveling, the salmon are dying, the orcas are going extinct, I never see the seals anymore, the skies are getting more and more polluted, the forests are being destroyed, and the oceans are acidifying because of the high carbon levels that are destroying not only the sea life but also the Seattle sea-based culture.

Also keep in mind that you can have more than one why, and it can be different for each cause you take on.

My why for being an LGBTQ+ activist is rooted in my experiences as a lesbian living in a heteronormative world (a world that sees being straight as the norm). My why, the reason I am such a vocal advocate for my queer community, is that I have experienced shame, stress, depression, alienation, and anxiety because of the way our world treats and erases girls like me, and I am striving to create a world where I don’t have to go through that anymore, and neither does anyone else. I don’t want any other queer kid to feel as overwhelmingly unrepresented, unwelcome, and unwanted by society as I have felt and often still do; I want to make a world where we have achieved full equality and liberation everywhere. Slightly different from my climate activism why, my LGBTQ+ activism why is rooted in my identity and personal lived experiences. My reasons are simple and genuine, because they are rooted in the liberation and ultimately survival of an oppressed group I belong to.

So, what are YOU fighting for? What can’t you live without? What is being taken from you?

Close this book, and maybe tonight before you fall asleep, just sit there and really ask yourself, “What is my why?”

You got it?


Hang on to it.

Make a vision board with it, draw it, write about it, make a video for yourself. Make reminders visible around you, especially where you work. Because I can tell you from experience that the movement-building road ahead of you is going to be one hell of a ride.

But you know why you’re doing this, so it’s going to be incredibly worth it. Buckle up and let’s do this!


  • "Among the many lessons in Jamie Margolin's inspiring manifesto Youth to Power is the counsel to 'find your why.' It is the advice of a wise elder in the voice of a young activist. Everyone, young and old, should read this enlightened and engaging call to action. It is a roadmap for a new generation of social activists and perhaps a critical piece of what may save us as a species and a planet. History will remember this book."
    Ken Burns
  • "In a time where politics largely ignores young people, Youth to Power is a necessary blueprint for those searching to change that reality. It provides us with comprehensive deep dives into the lives of youth activists, revealing the hardships and motivations behind all the work they do."—Jaclyn Corin
  • "Jamie Margolin has been on the front lines in the fight to avert climate catastrophe. Whether young or old, please read her account, Youth to Power, and be inspired to join the battle."
    Michael E. Mann, Distinguished Professor, Penn State University and co-author of The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy
  • "Jamie Margolin is among the powerful and inspiring youth activists leading a movement to demand urgent action on the climate crisis. With determined purpose and moral clarity, Jamie is pushing political leaders to develop ambitious plans to confront this existential threat to humanity. Youth To Power is an essential how-to for anyone of any age who feels called to act to protect our planet for future generations."—Former Vice President Al Gore
  • "We're at a moment when so many young people want to join in the fight for the future, but too often they feel powerless. Jamie Margolin and her many accomplices provide the sockets to plug into-the (clean) electricity comes pouring through these pages, and anyone who reads them will know what to do to make a real difference."—Bill McKibben, founder of and New York Times bestselling author of Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?
  • "A powerful toolkit for revolution....[Margolin's] tutorials...are concise, easy-to-follow checklists....[She] writes with clarity and maturity...[and] youthful candor....Margolin's book feels inclusive and useful for all ages."—Sierra Club
  • "Essential...provide[s] vital insight into the problems that plague people and the planet, while also offering solutions for a more just future."—The Revelator
  • "An approachable introduction to... advocating for legal and cultural change....Margolin's work speaks directly to the kids who look up to her."—New Voices
  • "Jamie Margolin's Youth to Power paves [the] way for change....Youth or adult, this book arrives at a crucial time, serving as a source of empowerment."—Parentology
  • "A galvanizing how-to manual instructing other young people about turning their activism dreams into reality. She offers keen, step-by-step advice....Margolin comes across as honest and funny, never trying to be someone she's not....Impressive and insightful....Perfect for young readers looking for a place to start."—Booklist
  • "Margolin has written a one-stop handbook for all aspiring activists....[H]er wisdomgoes beyond a single population or cause....Margolin offers concrete and intentional strategies that give readers immediate, focused, manageable action steps that will help them imagine and achieve meaningful changes....A must-read."—Library Journal (starred review)
  • "Today, everyone has the potential to become an activist, and perhaps in the future, with a little help from Jamie's book, everyone will."—PR Future
  • "Really helpful for our current time."—BookRiot
  • "[A book] to look forward to."
    Literary Hub
  • "An essential book by one of the country's most engaging young climate activists."—EcoWatch

On Sale
Jun 2, 2020
Page Count
272 pages
Hachette Go

Jamie Margolin

About the Author

Jamie Margolin is the cofounder of Zero Hour, an organization dedicated to fighting climate change. She lives in Seattle, WA.

Learn more about this author