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‘Our voices aren’t represented enough in environmental movements’

8 March 2021

An interview with Choked Up

For International Women’s Day 2021 we’re featuring some fantastic women on our channels who are doing really inspiring things.

Choked Up was founded by four sixth-formers – Anjali Raman-Middleton, Destiny Boka-Batesa, Kaydine Rogers and Nyeleti Brauer-Maxaeia – who are fighting for better air quality. They refer to themselves as “a group of brown and black teenagers who want the right to breathe clean air” and are raising awareness of the disproportionate impact poor air quality has on black and brown communities and pushing for changes to clean air law.

We had the pleasure of speaking to Anjali, Nyeleti and Destiny about Choked Up and its mission.  

Where does your passion for this issue come from?

Anjali: I live by the South Circular. It’s always busy – you can see the pollution coming off of these cars. As soon as I started thinking about air pollution, I started thinking about how this was affecting me and my community. I wanted to do something about it.

Nyeleti: Like Anjali, I live close to a very busy road. I can see how air pollution is affecting people in my community, particularly ethnically diverse and deprived communities.

Destiny: We’ve all grown up in areas affected by air pollution. Seeing the severity of it face-on, more or less every single day – you can see the harm it does. Being able to make a positive change about that means a lot to me – voices like ours aren’t represented enough in environmental movements.

Why are some communities disproportionately impacted by air pollution?

Anjali: One reason is because a lot of major roads go through areas that were historically cheaper to buy houses in. A lot of people from immigrant or poorer backgrounds moved there. When these roads were built, people who could afford to leave would move somewhere considered nicer and without a busy road going through. It’s continued because these areas are still the cheaper areas in London. It becomes a cycle that repeats. Poverty is entwined with race because of the historical oppression people of colour have faced.

Tell us about the campaign

Nyeleti: We are ultimately campaigning for stronger laws and stronger regulations for air quality in the UK. Ideally we’d like a new Clean Air Act but this doesn’t look likely under the current Government. Even the Environment Bill that has some measures to improve air quality has been sadly pushed back a few months (and for the third time), which is very disappointing. Ultimately outside of legislation we would like equitable solutions to clean air, to make sure that it’s not something people from London and other urban areas across the country have to worry about.

For International Women’s Day, what’s the challenge you’d like to pose to us all for a better future?

Anjali: My challenge would be for us all to examine our environmentalism – is it inclusive enough? Are you thinking about social justice within that? Are you thinking about climate justice? Are you looking at how everything intersects or are you trying to separate environmental justice from everything else that’s connected to it – income, race and all of these intersecting issues that we can’t ignore.

Nyeleti: I would ask that whenever you have a chance to engage in democracy – on a local and national level – make sure the candidate you’re voting for has a good clean air policy. It’s really important to look at who is offering the best strategies and solutions for air quality and pollution. It should be on people’s radar a lot more.

Destiny: Decentre your activism and uplift marginalised voices – I think that when a lot of people think about activism and striving for social justice, all we do is repost an infographic on Instagram or sort of… put ourselves at the front of the cause. It can take away from really important narratives. Uplift BIPOC voices and communities that are extremely vulnerable – by putting them at the front. Solidarity is really important, but I don’t think a lot of people tend to consider that – the ‘face’ of activism is more focused on individual efforts.

Striving for social change is definitely a collectivist act. If we all find ways to work together and find a common cause that we can all work through, I think that’s where real change can come from.
Are there any other messages you’d like to amplify?

Nyeleti: I would like to amplify the message that environmental justice is social justice – it’s not just about gardens or protecting landscapes. It’s really about how environmental issues are affecting people. Certain people are at the forefront of the effects of climate change and that’s not necessarily who you see campaigning in the environmental sphere. It’s important to connect the issues of racism and the environment.

Anjali: I think that when people talk about environmentalism, a lot of our actions are driven by protecting nature. I get that that’s important – I really love nature and animals. But we tend to overlook how this work also protects people’s lives. I think that’s also one of the reasons people of colour might not get as involved in environmental movements. There are so many other things they are contending with; if they see something as far off when there are issues actively affecting them on a daily basis, they’re less likely to engage with it. If we start to focus on the very real impacts on people’s lives– I think we’ll manage to engage more people.
What are some of the ways individuals can get more involved in activism?

Destiny: Instead of reaching out to big established activists, look closer to home. What’s happening in your local community, mutual aid etc. Particularly during this pandemic, there are so many vulnerable people in our communities and so many things we can do to support our neighbours and people around us.

Are you ‘doing’ activism or do you consider it a way of being?

Destiny: I really do feel like this is my calling. When you have a cause that you really, really care about you want to do everything within your power to see it flourish. It’s almost a second nature thing. It isn’t all roses; it does get really straining sometimes. We’re kids and we have to balance loads of other things. But I see that the advantages surpass any of the challenges. 

Nyeleti: I’m quite an idealist – I always want to do what I think is right. I wouldn’t be fulfilled if I wasn’t doing everything I can to fix a problem I see. I just think to myself; if no one else does it, who’s going to do it? It’s our environment, it’s the world we’re going to live in. If we didn’t enjoy it, we wouldn’t do it.

Anjali: I think it is a way of being. It’s something you really feel in your heart, at your core. Once I started doing stuff, I wanted to do more. It’s only once doing all of this stuff that I realised other people saw me as an activist. True activism and how we should continue to define activism is something that’s really driven by you taking action because you want to – not because you feel that it’s expected of you. Something inside tells you that you have to do it.
Follow Choked Up on Twitter and Instagram @ChokedUp_UK.

Here the full interview.