'It's my generation’s future': the voteless young climate activists

Jessica Murray and Aamna Mohdin
Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

Although school prevents him from campaigning as much as he would like, Hasan Patel has been spending every weekend canvassing for Labour during the campaign.

This week he’s just finished his exams and is off door-knocking in Kensington, then Chingford and Woodford Green, both marginal seats and high on Labour’s list of priorities. At 16 years old, Patel can’t vote himself, so he’s keen to utilise his skills where they’ll be of most use.

“It’s quite sad really because there are millions of us who are actually politically engaged and want to make a difference, and obviously voting is one of the best ways that you can do that,” says Hasan, who lives in Leyton, east London.

“It’s not good enough to sit back. I thought it was imperative to get involved and try and make a difference, even though I can’t vote. I want to show others that if I can do it, so can they, especially if they’re older than me.”

Like many young people, the climate crisis is Hasan’s priority and something he says comes up a surprising amount on the doorstep. “Climate is the main issue facing our generation and the whole of the world,” he says. “But it’s about relating it to ordinary lives – it’s not just a vague thing that will affect us in the future. It’s here right now and we have to do something.”

His feelings are shared by Cameron Palin, 17, who is the youth and student officer for the Isle of Wight Green party. “It’s obviously my generation’s future which this election going to affect the most, especially with Brexit and the climate crisis, and we don’t have a say,” he says.

He’s been door-knocking, leafleting and helping to organise events for the past few weeks, trying to persuade the island’s mainly older population that the climate crisis is a crucial issue for his future. “But conveying that message in such a short general election with so many other issues is difficult.”

The climate crisis is a concern that unites young people across party and political divides. When 16-year-old Callum Childs tells his peers he backs Brexit, he is met with either laughter or incredulity. But when he mentions his worries about the environment, he finds his peers are on the same page: across the political spectrum, they agree there has not been enough focus on the climate emergency in this election.

“I don’t think any of us, whether left, right or centre, want to live in a world where we don’t have any nature or wildlife,” says Callum, a year 12 student living in the London borough of Bromley.

Fifteen-year-old Morgan Smith, who is studying for her GCSEs in Leicester, says of the climate crisis: “I’m angry more than anything else. I’m angry that no one seems to be caring about it as much as they should be,”

She has been canvassing and leafleting for the Labour party, which she believes is the best option to tackle the climate crisis. “No one is doing enough and it scares me because so many people are going to be harmed by this, so many people are going to lose their lives about this.”

Morgan wants the party to do more to promote its green new deal and shift the debate away from Brexit. “Borders aren’t going to exist when we are all dead,” she says.

Others have turned to protests as a way of affecting an election that they can’t vote in. Fern Jameson-Green, 17, who is part of XR Youth in Bristol, says: “I think that young people see the future as out of their hands, so we’re trying to take back that power and make decisions regarding the climate crisis, especially because it’s something we will live through.”

She is encouraging older family members to prioritise climate issues when deciding who to vote for. “I am going to be doing as much as I can to make sure that my voice is heard through my family, and to try and educate them on what I know about politics and the climate,” she says.

Cameron admits he is sometimes not taken seriously because of his age. “You obviously get some people saying: ‘You’re too young to understand, you can’t vote, 16- and 17-year-olds aren’t informed.’ I understand why they say that, but many of us are as informed as people who are 40 years old.

“We understand that it’s our future and so much needs to happen in such little time. We just have to make these bold steps.”

Hasan finds that people on the doorstep have become increasingly used to the presence of young activists. “For the past few decades, young people just haven’t been involved. But I think, especially with Jeremy Corbyn as a leader and his message that there is a better way to do things, that’s inspired lots of young people.

“Many of the canvassing sessions I’ve been to have been overwhelmingly young people. It’s really heartwarming to see.”