"I’m telling my story as a form of activism against something that appears so intangible and huge. The people on the ground have as much to contribute, with their stories, as academics and policy-makers the scientists… This movement must speak a language of the heart if it seeks to succeed."
Ayisha Siddiqa is a Pakistani-American studying political science and creative writing at Hunter College. She is the Co-founder and Finance Director of Polluters Out, and Executive Director of Student Affairs at Fossil Free University. Her climate work focuses specially on the rights of marginalized Black, Indigenous and Brown communities and she believes that storytelling is a key component of achieving climate justice.
When she was nineteen and a sophomore at Hunter College, the poet Ayisha Siddiqa became on of the leaders of the 2019 youth climate strike that brought half a million people onto the streets of New York City. In this powerful personal essay, Ayisha recounts how she came to understand herself as being on the frontline of the climate justice movement: because of the way her family was forced off the land by industrialisation and pollution in Pakistan; because of her poverty-stricken immigrant childhood in Brooklyn and the Islamophobic racism she encountered, which she understands as the direct result on the fossil-fuel driven “War on Terror”. She lives, literally, on the frontline, in Coney Island. But going to college brought her into contact with the ideas, and people, who drew her into the climate movement, where she has always felt herself to be an outsider, given her class. Now, as she contemplates going to law school, she explains why she and other young women of colour have founded an organization called “Polluters Out”, convened to lead a boycott movement against the fossil fuel industry. She remembers the words of her Pakistani grandmother: “When you tread on the earth, you must walk with humbleness and gentleness, because the earth feels pain, and knows when you’re about to cause havoc and abuse on it.”