Name Avery Tsai
Preferred Pronouns She/her/hers
Current City Brooklyn, NY
What is your “cause”?
I am a Climate Activist and member of Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion Youth NYC and Rise and Resist.
How do these groups work to fight climate change?
All three groups are direct action groups. FFF and XR Youth are fighting for the climate and Rise and Resist is fighting against the Trump administration.
Why did you personally get started? What’s your story behind your decision to make this commitment to change?
I learned about being a feminist and an activist in preschool. My mom always read me books about female heroes in society, like Jane Goodall, but also a lot of them are women no one knew anything about. Books about feminists and artists have always been my favorite. I learned that girls have to stand up for their rights.
My mom and I are good friends with Diana Kane who has a boutique in our neighborhood and is a feminist organizer and part of the feminist resistance. She’s a hero of mine. She knows lots of feminists and lots of artists and I get to go to art openings at her boutique and we protest together sometimes. She’s been an influence on me because she’s also very stylish and I like style and I like activism, just like her. She was really upset like us when Hillary Clinton lost. We need a female president. I thought that was crazy when my mom said we’d never had one. I don’t like that there are only men presidents on our money.
My mom likes voting and I’ve always helped my mom vote since I was little and I liked to fill in the bubbles and carry the ballot. When Hillary Clinton was going to be our first female president we wore pantsuits to the polls and skipped all the way there and were so happy. When she lost my mom and I were super upset and she said we were going to march on Washington against Trump because he’s not our president.
She said we had to use our voices to say no to Trump. That was the first protest I ever went to. I was chanting a lot. I made my sign that said “Stand Up For Your Rights”. I loved that protest and hoped Trump saw all the people who were mad. It was pink hats everywhere. After that first march in Washington I told my mom I was going to be an activist.
At the time my mom and I were also helping refugees and helping get the things they needed for their new homes in the city. We did a lot of drives and I loved packing trucks and sorting things especially for kids. Our apartment and basement was always overflowing with stuff. I didn’t really understand what refugees were or why they had to leave their countries and so my mom and I talked a lot, that’s when she explained to me what climate refugees are and that’s also when I got interested in the climate. I asked her if the earth was going to blow up, but she said no, but I am still worried because there are a lot of fires where my grandparents live in California.
When my mom was homeschooling me I learned a lot about science and nature and climate change. My mom didn’t raise me religious but we always talked about Mother Nature since I was little and whether she is happy or sad so that’s why I made my sign “Mother Nature is Crying” for my first climate strike. I wrote that because she is really sad at what is happening to the earth and all the fossil fuel companies who are polluting it.
Now Trump won’t let many refugees in even if they have climate problems in their country. Greta is the person who has explained the most to me about the climate. It’s because of fossil fuels and carbon in the atmosphere. My mom said when she was little she got to play in the snow and sled all winter but in my childhood there’s not been enough snow because of climate change. I’ve only sled a couple times because there’s no snow. She says we are very lucky and explained to me about climate justice and how we really have to care about all the countries and people who are going to be in trouble before us. I’m an activist for them.
Like Greta says I know that grownups aren’t listening, but we have to get them to listen. We need to leave fossil fuels in the ground. That’s what I chant about when I protest. I’m a climate activist but I’m fighting Trump too with the group Rise and Resist because he’s hurting everyone and it’s all tied together. I’ve protested him separating kids from their parents at Grand Central and the Oculus. If you are fighting Trump you are for Mother Nature.
What have you learned in the process?
Well, a lot about refugees, climate change and how everyone should be a feminist. I’ve learned that one girl can strike in Sweden and soon many millions of people will join in. I was shy when I was little but I’m not shy when I’m an activist. When my mom and I are in protests we always try to be near the people with a bullhorn because they know all the words to say. I like this chant the best: “Show me what democracy looks like, This is what democracy looks like”. My mom and I always smile at each other when that starts because I chanted it a lot on my first march on Washington. My mom thought I was shy I think until then.
I like protesting with kids the best because they are just like me and they care about everything that’s happening to the earth too.
Who have you found to be influential for you on this path?
Greta Thunberg. She’s taught me a lot about the climate crisis. She says we have to defend nature. She says we have to unite behind the science. She makes it very simple to understand but a lot of grown ups are ignoring it. When I was homeschooling we followed Greta’s strike all year and her journey across the ocean to New York City. We watched the tracker online everyday for two weeks so we could see where her boat was and how close she was to us. I went to greet her when she arrived in Manhattan. It was so exciting. We were waving our signs like crazy. And then I striked alongside her in front of the UN the next week.
Tell us about a moment that was successful to you.
Once I went to Climate strike in front of City Hall in Downtown Manhattan and it was really early and the other Friday’s for Future kids weren’t there yet. I know Greta would strike by herself but I felt too shy. My mom said to just try and see how it feels. My mom sat on a bench away from me so that she could see me, but I was kind of alone. I held up my sign and it got easier because some adults came up to me to say thank you and talk to me. One lady wanted to hug me and that was a little weird, but my mom was watching the whole time so I let her. After a while I was fine being by myself, but then I was happy when the other strikers showed up.
What’s an ongoing challenge? And how do you combat that and keep your spirits up?
Just time. My mom was homeschooling me, but I’m in a new school now that I really like and I have homework at night and not as much free time as I used to. I want to do all the Rise and Resist protests and all the climate protests, really all the activism I can, but my mom says I can’t do all of them. XR Youth NYC meeting are on Sunday afternoons so that’s perfect for me.
People may not know it but It feels good to be an activist and you make friends who care about the same things.
Plus if you are like me and you like to do art you will have a lot of fun. For XR Youth NYC I’m on the art working group with a climate Activist named Sima Nisenbaum who is the head of XR Youth US and the XR Youth NYC art group. A while ago I went to an event about climate change in Red Hook on a barge and she spoke and called herself an “artivist”. I like that word. I like everything artivist she does.
I just started a Climate Club in my fourth grade class. It’s really fun. We meet twice a week at lunch and we do a little bit of education, my mom helps me pick out cool articles to discuss like one about how in Africa schools are being made out of bricks made from recycled plastic. They all like to do Climate art too. I hope they all strike with me at the big climate strike in December but I don’t know if they can yet.
The club makes me happy when I can’t school strike because we are working on things. So far we are planning a drive at the school for plastic markers. Crayola will take back any used up markers. It would be great if they made them into bricks for schools but as long as they don’t go in the trash. We are excited to make signs for the project. One of the club members just wants to save the turtles and not do other things, but that’s okay.
Do you have a favorite quote?
“No one is too small to make a difference.”-Greta Thunberg. It’s also the title of her book.
What resources would you recommend to people who want to learn more about this issue OR start something similar?
You can join a FFF or XR chapter or start one. Just show up at their meeting. Everyone’s very friendly, even if you are a little kid. There’s other groups like Zero Hour, Sunrise, Earth Uprising and 350.org to join. If you go to any website of these groups you can see where to meet. You can just make a sign and strike. I like to go to the art store with my mom to get supplies. You can start a Climate Club or anything really. Everyone just needs to spread the word because it’s very serious.
I watched Greta’s speech at the UN. The first thing I would watch is that. I recommend listening to all of Greta Thunberg’s videos or even just read her book with her speeches. If you are on Instagram, definitely follow these teen climate activists to be inspired: Ayisha Siddiqa, Jamie Margolin, Olivia Wogelmuth, Xiye Bastida, Alexandria Villaseñor, Sima Nisenbaum, Isra Hirsi, Shiv Soin and Sophie Anderson. My mom and I went to get Jamie Margolin’s new book “Youth to Power, Your Voice and How to Use It”, but it’s not out till the spring. I will read that when it comes out and so should everybody.
In your free time where can we find you / what do you like to do?
I like to play with my friends, ride my scooter, draw manga, watercolor, sew, craft, take photos and eat Japanese food. My favorite place in Brooklyn is Brooklyn Labo in Park Slope. It’s everything Japanese. My dad and I spend a lot of time there just hanging out. We get Iced mocha with malted rice at the cafe and I’ll draw or work on stuff for Climate Club while my dad works on his laptop.
Then we look at all the food in the market part and go in the art gallery and gift shop and sometimes I get my hair cut by my friend Taka at their salon. Everyone who works there is really nice and they give us hints about what Japanese snacks to try. I’ve been playing the violin since preschool and practice that a lot and my dad and I just started drum lessons. My dad knows a lot about music so he’s introduced me to a lot of bands. We listen to music together a lot when I’m helping him cook.
Anything else you feel important to add?
The next Climate Strike is December 6th!
Editor’s Note: We photographed Avery at the Climate Strike on September 20th. At the time I didn’t even get her name but was struck by how poignant and sincere she looked. She saw herself on our Instagram and commented “That’s me!” and we decided to contact her to see if we could feature her on No Kill. To be honest, there was a moment of hesitation. When you see someone so young there is always the question of “exploitation”. Is it their choice to be in this situation (in this case, a climate strike) or is it an adult doing the choosing for them. While I believe that can be a valid concern it can also be a wildly patronizing position. An assumption that they “don’t really understand what they’re doing”
Before reaching out to Avery I thought of my own pre-teen self and my values and opinions. I remembered I was very clear as to “what I was about” and it wasn’t until I was older that those waters were muddied by other people’s expectations of my thoughts and behaviors. So we sent the interview questions to Avery via her Mom and are so thrilled that we did. It is clear that her actions are coming from her own independent thinking and moreover I believe she is a great role model for other girls to see that their voices matter: whether it’s a protest against the Trump administrations policies or saving the turtles there are ways to be involved at any age.
Top Illustration & Avery in her cape © Katya Moorman, all other images courtesy Avery Tsai and her mom Elizabeth Payne