Student rights campaigner Larissa on young people leading the charge at COP26, being joyful without fear and finding your community

Campaign Bootcamp trainer Nim caught up with Bootcamp grad and campaigner Larissa at COP26 about fighting for climate justice, her top tips for getting into activism and more

Tell us a bit about yourself and what brought you to COP26.

My name is Larissa, my pronouns are she/her and I have the joy and privilege of being National President at NUS, the National Union of Students. I’m also involved in Students Organising for Sustainability, so I’m here representing both NUS and SOS and really trying to bring the kind of radical transformative action that students are looking for to the table at COP26.  

I’m here to be visible on the streets, to make sure students know that they can organise and get out there. I’m here trying to shake the table when it comes to some of these quite dead conversations about where we go with the climate. I’m here to centre climate justice, social justice, economic justice, and all of the things that students are fighting for.

Seeing so many young people lead on that day was so amazing, to see them stepping into roles of support as well. I saw students who had never been to a protest before stewarding and getting trained up and working together with trade unionists.

 

I love that it’s called SOS. So what’s been your highlight campaigning around COP26 so far?

Oh, my absolute highlight was on the Saturday [6th November], the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice. We partnered up with the STUC (the Scottish Trade Union Congress), to steward the block that had the Friday’s for Future organisers there. So being able to fend off journalists, fend off people who are doing the most to prevent us from getting the message out, and make sure that folks, young people, specifically from the most climate and pollution affected areas were able to, shout and scream, be angry, be joyful, without fear.

Seeing so many young people lead on that day was so amazing, to see them stepping into roles of support as well. I saw students who had never been to a protest before stewarding and getting trained up and working together with trade unionists. We had young people stewarding for even younger young people!  It was good vibes. That was definitely my highlight, it was really beautiful.

There’s nearly always an organising group or space, or a collection of individuals who are talking about how the climate affects local people, and want to take action. And if you discover that space doesn’t exist, then create it!  

What’s the one thing you would tell people who are passionate about climate justice but don’t know how to start campaigning?

For anything you’re passionate about, be it climate justice, social justice, whatever the thing is you’re being drawn to, my first piece of advice for getting involved is finding something that exists in your local community. There’s nearly always an organising group or space, or a collection of individuals who are talking about how the climate affects local people, and want to take action. And if you discover that space doesn’t exist, then create it!  

I think so often, people want to map themselves on to groups that have national prestige or intellectual prestige, and I’m not saying groups with those things are not important. But at the end of the day, it all starts with local connections and people in their local communities coming together to fight for what we know in our guts is right.

I want to hear and speak more about community organising, too. I think organising is a very visceral process. It’s not just about following one route or map, but following your gut, and listening to your own experiences, as well as the experiences of those around you.

The most basic thing that we do as people is exist together.  And if collectively, we can do that in a way that brings people to fight for the things that we care about – that’s a fight I want to join.

Banging answer,  I love that. That [point about] organising is missing, that’s really true.

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