10 Activists You've Never Heard of That You Should Follow in 2020
By Nick Bridwell & Emma Prince Fisher
"Activism" is one of those words that encapsulates so many things. On the one hand, it’s about being active for a cause. It’s also about activating others and giving agency to allies. And then, there’s also the inherent fighting spirit that so many activists contain. In 2020, we’re seeing more and more activists rise to the occasion. Often, these activists are inspired to fight for a cause by those that came before them. In order to find inspiration for our efforts at Uncomfortable Conversations, we’ve put together a list of activists that we follow for empowering advice, focused direction, and world-changing wisdom. Here are 10 activists you’ve never heard of that you should follow in 2020.
1. Tara Houska, Voice of the Tribal Nations
The first activist we'll introduce you to is Tara Houska of the Couchiching First Nation. Tara is a tribal attorney and activist based in Washington, D.C. Tara is also the National Campaigns Director of Honor the Earth and she’s acted as Bernie Sanders’ advisor on Native American affairs.
Tara advocates nationally on behalf of tribal nations. Her efforts include fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota and creating Not Your Mascots, a nonprofit committed to educating the public about Native American portrayal and stereotyping.
2. Jamie Margolin, Challenger of Climate Change
Follow Jamie on IG: @jamie_s_margolin
Follow Zero Hour on IG at @thisiszerohour
Seattle native and outspoken lesbian Jamie Margolin has been involved in community issues since she was 14. Jamie is the founder of Zero Hour, a youth-lead organization that “centers the voices of diverse youth in the conversation around climate and environmental justice.”
Jamie has used her voice to educate middle school and high school crowds about the climate crisis. In a report by the New York Times, she said, “Children think about it in a logical way that’s more scientific than adults with Ph.D.s. Adults, they go into a whole explanation, but kids will just be like, this is wrong. When she’s not speaking to youth, she makes time to do things like introducing Bernie Sanders to massive crowds.
Jamie wears her youth like a badge of honor and we’re all much the better for it.
3. Marley Dias, Literary Prodigy
Follow on IG: @iammarleydias
Marley Dias wrote the book on young activism. Literally. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Marley first attained notoriety when she created the #1000blackgirlbooks campaign, which focused on collecting and donating 1,000 books with black female characters.
THEN, later, after that success, Marley wrote the book, “Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You!” to encourage other activists. Marley continues to focus on her #1000blackgirlbooks campaign, even after its overwhelming success, because she believes it’s more important than ever to promote books with Black characters so that Black readers are represented in the books they read.
4. Reanna Estrada, Artist Who Acts Out
Reanna Estrada is an artist who uses her gift to make positive changes in her community. She is a member of the female artist group Mail Order Bride/M.O.B. and co-founder of the civic engagement studio in LA called Public Matters. Through Public Matters, Reanna is able to “advise clients and partners on proactive education and engagement strategies that transform the culture, practice, and experience of civic participation in communities of color.”
5. Jill Robinson - Animal Rights Activist, Animal Asia
Jill Robinson is a badass. She moved from the UK to Hong Kong in 1985 and spent 12 years as a consultant for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. During that time, she witnessed widespread animal cruelty across Asia. She founded programs like Dr. Dog in 1991, to inform and change people’s minds into thinking of dogs as companions instead of food. But it was a particularly disturbing encounter with a caged bear at a bear bile farm that spurred her to further action.
She started the organization Animals Asia in 1998 to help rescue these Asiatic and Sun bears from being horribly mistreated; kept alive in tiny cages and tortured by having their bile painfully extracted directly from their gallbladders. Traditional Chinese medicine has long used bear bile to treat several ailments. And while bear bile has been medically proven to help break up gallstones and treat liver disease, it can be replaced by synthetic or plant-based substitutes. Bear bile has been made illegal in Vietnam but remains legal in China.
Animals Asia has helped rescue over 610 bears and worked with 100+ groups across China to promote dog and cat welfare. For her efforts, Jill Robinson was awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998 and the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries award for World’s Best Sanctuary in 2011.
Robinson’s most recent victory came in June of 2020 when China reclassified dogs as pets instead of livestock.
6. Isra Hirsi - Environmental Activist, U.S. Youth Climate Strike
Isra Hirsi has done more to help the environment than most people do in their entire lives, and she is still in high school. Inspired by the Flint water crisis, Isra started her journey in climate activism by joining her high school environmental club during her freshman year. She has since gone on to co-found the U.S. Youth Climate Strike, the American arm of a global youth climate change movement, and coordinate the organization of hundreds of student-led strikes across the U.S. in early 2019. She still serves as this group’s co-executive director.
Isra also gave her first TED talk at 17 years old this past February. As a Black, Muslim woman, she has spoken eloquently of the correlation between racial and environmental injustice. We will continue to expect great things from her in the future and hope she is just getting started. Her energy and dedication must run in the family. Her mother is U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.
7. Mari Copeny: Water Access Activist
The youngest person on this list, at just 12 years old, is Mari Copeny aka “Little Miss Flint”. As you might expect, she’s from Flint, Michigan. She had to learn at 8 years old that she had to use bottled water for everything because the city’s contaminated water supply was dangerous. So, she wrote a letter to President Obama and convinced him to come to Flint to see the crisis first-hand. The visit gained national attention and helped raise support for the city’s residents.
Since then, she has raised over $500,000 to help 25,000 children in Flint and beyond by providing clean water, school supplies, and other resources for a healthy life. She also raised over $280,000 to distribute over a million bottles of water to the people of Flint.
Mari shifted her focus away from plastic water bottles in 2019 to a more environmentally friendly solution and has partnered with “a socially responsible water filtration company” to serve communities in the U.S. dealing with contaminated, toxic water.
8. Dr. Paula Kahumbu: Animal Rights Activist
Dr. Paula Kahumbu has made her career in wildlife and conservation over the last 24 years. She is currently the CEO of the Kenyan Conservation NGO Wildlife Direct and since 2014 has been leading its “Hands off Our Elephants” campaign, which seeks to restore Kenyan leadership in elephant conservation through behavior change at all societal levels: rural communities, business leaders and political decision-makers. It was launched as a response to the rapidly growing issue of elephant and rhino poaching in the country and its government’s failure to acknowledge, let alone deal with, the crisis. The program encourages the surrounding communities to become animal rights activists via media coverage and reporting witnessed wildlife crime via an anonymous hotline.
On top of all that, she finds time to produce the award-winning NTV Wild and NTV Wild Talk series, is the chairperson for National Museums of Kenya, and lectures at Princeton University in Undergraduate Ecology. She is also the co-author of two children’s books, “Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship” and “Looking for Miza”.
9. Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Guardian of Earth’s Garden
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is a 20-year-old activist and hip-hop artist. More importantly, he is a leader for his generation. He believes that education and young people are the key to future social and environmental change. He uses his platform as Youth Director of Earth Guardians, an environmental activist organization founded in 1992 by his mother Tamara Roske, to inspire and train youth to be leaders in these movements and to use the power of art, music, storytelling, civic engagement and legal action to make these issues known and to create impactful solutions.
Just check out one of his three TED talks or listen to his speech to the UN when he was 15 to hear the passion behind his words and his mission. And X has not just talked the talk, he walks the walk. He has organized climate strikes, cultivated environmentally focused policy, and promoted voting registration to encourage individual activism. He has been featured in multiple publications including Rolling Stone, National Geographic, Vogue, and The Guardian as well as appearances on HBO, CNN, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon. Recently named in Time’s Next 100, he is one we need to watch and follow.
10. Betsy Reed, Environmental and Social Justice Leader
Follow: IG: @thebetsyreed
We’ll finish out our list with a woman we’re proud to call a friend, collaborator, and advisor at Uncomfortable Conversations. Betsy Reed is an accomplished speaker, author, and leader on social and environmental issues. Since she was a 10-year-old girl in Wyoming, she’s been involved in volunteerism and community organization. For the past 17 years, she’s conducted an international career with corporate and government clients across the UK, US, Africa, and Asia.
Her successes include national campaigns on issues like Fair Trade, food waste, and packaging. Betsy’s most recent accomplishment is last week’s release of her book, “Communicating Social and Environmental Issues Effectively”. Learn more about Betsy in our Season 1, Episode 7 episode “Discomfort is the Edge of Change”.
Researching our list of 10 activists was an enlightening experience. It’s so encouraging to see that many people are out there in the world working to make it a better planet for all of us. Do you have a favorite activist you’d add to this list? We’d love to hear all about it! Let us know in the comments here or on our social pages.
If you enjoyed this article about activists, we know you’ll love our chat with #10 on this list, Betsy Reed. Check out our episode “Discomfort is the Edge of Change” to see Nick’s interview with Betsy on the Uncomfortable Conversations YouTube channel. There, you’ll also find episodes about mental health, creating a new world during the pandemic, tackling racism and police brutality, and more.