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Meet Jean Hinchliffe

Jean Hinchliffe is a 17-year-old climate activist and one of the lead organisers of School Strike 4 Climate. Often called ‘Australia’s Greta Thunberg’, she’s now written Lead the Way: How to change the world from a teen activist and school striker to help young people fight for the causes they’re passionate about. Spineout sat down with Jean to find out how she started out as an activist, and get some tips about the tougher parts of activism.

What inspired you to write Lead the Way?

In writing Lead the Way, I wanted to create the book I wish I had when I first ventured into the world of change making. It was such an overwhelming thing to navigate; it took a lot of trial and error to figure out how to do even the simplest things. I constantly see young people with such potential to make the world a better place, yet the daunting nature of activism and the feeling they're not quite skilled or 'qualified' enough to make a difference holds them back. I hoped to not only equip these people with the practical skills required at any stage of one's activist journey, but to also help people realise the power of their voice. Only through developing a genuine belief in your own abilities can you take that leap of faith into making a real difference.
 
How did you get your start as a young activist?

I first became involved in activism when I joined the 'Vote Yes for Marriage Equality' campaign when I was in Year 8. This involved cold calling people and encouraging them to vote in support of same sex marriage, alongside putting up seemingly infinite posters and stickers. It was an incredible experience - for the first time in my life I felt my actions were making a tangible difference against the things I found unjust. From there I started volunteering with my local Stop Adani and GetUp groups, before getting involved with School Strike 4 Climate (SS4C) in 2018.

What’s the most meaningful moment you’ve had during your time as an activist and public speaker?

I think the most meaningful moment I've experienced would be at the first climate strike here in Sydney. We had no clue of how many people were going to show up, nor of what the general response from students would be. On the day of the strike itself, we were left gobsmacked. Martin Place was flooded with a seemingly endless trail of students, who waved hand-painted signs and shouted chants together. It was soon filled with a crowd of more than 5000, who were left spilling onto nearby streets. I was lucky enough to have MC-ed the event, which I feel eternally grateful for. With every line I spoke, the audience responded with a passionate cry, the energy constantly growing despite the blazing summer heat. There was an electricity around us which felt wholly unique; we all knew that we were building something far bigger than any of us.

How did the pandemic and lockdown affect your ability to engage in activism? How did you get around it?
 
The pandemic certainly made activism trickier, though I think I pivoted pretty well. I've been organising primarily through Zoom since I was thirteen, so there really wasn't much of a shift in my communications when everything began to go online. Despite this, it was quite the challenge to learn to take action in entirely different ways to what I was used to. SS4C were in the midst of organising our next major physical protest when lockdown happened, meaning in the period of just a few weeks we had to discard all our plans and start again from scratch. We managed to pull through as a team despite this, coordinating a national livestream against the proposed gas-fired recovery, which tens of thousands of people tuned into across a four-hour period. As a whole though, activism existed as a rock of sorts for me during the chaos of online learning and the general stress of Covid. It offered genuine connection and motivation at a point where everything seemed to be falling apart.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the range of issues we’re facing today – how do you choose which ones to dedicate your time to?

First and foremost: it's important to remember that every societal issue overlaps and intersects in a variety of ways; there's no true justice or liberation for anybody without justice and liberation for everybody. However, there's only so much capacity which you can funnel into any particular cause. Though you don't need to pick a single issue to place all your effort, it can help to take the time to realise what resonates the most with you, and where you can create the largest impact. It's okay to bubble around in different spaces to find an answer to this, in fact, rarely are activists only involved in one area. There's really no right or wrong to this, as long as you feel you're making a difference you're on the right track.

What tips do you have for young people who want to fight for issues that their parents/loved ones may not agree with?

Advocating for something which others in your life disagree with is always a massive challenge. The best thing you can do in this situation is accept that you very likely won't be able to change their minds overnight, and that's okay. Those who disagree with you are almost never evil or bad people and treating them as such won't do you any favours. In the long term, trying to have genuine and meaningful conversations with those around you is the most effective way to shift their mindset and let them understand your perspective. Remember to not go into it with the intention of proving how stupid and wrong their opinions are, instead attempt to find common ground and figure out how and why your thoughts differ.

Published by Pantera Press.