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Jamie Margolin first time voter
Photo via Instagram @jamie_s_margolin, illustration Callum Abbott

How climate activist Jamie Margolin is using her first ever vote

The 18-year-old is the founder of the youth-led climate justice organisation Zero Hour – here, she explains why this election is life-and-death for both the planet and the marginalised, and discusses its impact on her mental health

First Time Voters is an editorial series spotlighting a fervent new generation of voters and their intentions, hopes, and dreams for the future, and the work and rallying they do beyond the ballot

On the eve of the 2020 election, 18-year-old climate activist, college student, and former Dazed 100er Jamie Margolin is just trying to keep it together. “I'm doing my laundry, my homework, just trying to fill myself up with tasks,” she says. 

Jamie, now a freshman at NYU, got her start organising for a better world at the age of 15 when she founded the youth-led climate justice organisation Zero Hour with her friends Nadia Nazar, Madelaine Tew, and Zanagee Artis. In 2018, while in high school, Jamie joined her peers in bringing a lawsuit against the state of Washington and governor Jay Inslee for failing to lower fossil fuel emissions, thereby impacting their health and futures.

Jamie is taking this election incredibly seriously. “The stakes are life-and-death. For the planet, for the climate crisis, for everyone on it, for so many different communities,” Jamie tells Dazed. “The LGBTQ+ community, women’s rights. racial justice, all of these other things.” 

The activist, who is a lesbian, feels strongly that Joe Biden is the candidate who will protect those issues. “I’ve been very vocal that I was a Bernie supporter,” Jamie admits. “Those are my politics, but in terms of who is better and worse for the LGBTQ+ community – my community – Biden promised that he would support our community and take action for us.” In comparison, Jamie points to vice president Mike Pence’s publicly homophobic stances, as well as the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, who may rule on LGBTQ+ rights as early as this week. “There’s just so much at stake for the planet, for so many different communities. I'm just so scared.”

As someone who lives with mental illness, Jamie is trying to make it through the election without letting that fear overpower her. “I was so devastated last time when Trump got elected, emotionally. I already have chronic depression and anxiety as it is,” Jamie says. “After this (conversation), I think I’m gonna go get myself some ice cream.” Jamie’s not the only one struggling to hold it together. As reported by The New York Times, almost 70 per cent of Americans are experiencing some level of stress about the election.

“The stakes are life-and-death. For the planet, for the climate crisis, for everyone on it, for so many different communities” – Jamie Margolin

The possibility for violence and voter disinformation is weighing heavy on Jamie. “Trump’s a fascist, and he really doesn’t respect or care about democracy. He never has,” Jamie states. Her distrust of Trump is leading her to question the voting process more broadly – like a number of young people this election – giving voice to anxieties troubling many voters. Three out of four Americans are concerned about a peaceful transfer of power; cities and businesses across the country are boarding up shop windows, anticipating unrest.

“I’m so worried about so many different scenarios: if the vote is too close and there’s a recount, if there’s a Biden landslide (and Trump) won't respect it, and also the violence of Trump supporters and white supremacists.” Jamie ties these more novel concerns, including COVID-19’s impact on the voting system, to what we saw in 2016 with the popular vote being overruled by the electoral college. “I think (the electoral college) should be abolished,” she tells Dazed. “Only a few counties within a few states are really deciding the elections.” 

Beyond the heavy feelings about the election kicking off, Jamie – like this group of Atlanta-based exotic dancers before her – wants to remind others of the importance of down-ballot races and elections besides the presidential, even if it may be easy to forget with all the frenzy. “When I got my ballot in the mail I didn’t know about a lot of super-down ballot races that were happening, but I got my ballot, pulled out my computer and did my research on stuff. I really hope that people take the time to do the research,” she says. “A lot of what affects people’s day-to-day lives, in terms of politics, is on a local level.”