I’m Grace Maddrell, aged 14, she/her (although I’m not fussed about pronouns), a climate activist, and writer from England. I’m part of lots of groups, but in general, I work with Fridays For Future, Polluters Out, Extinction Rebellion, and the #SaveCongoRainforest campaign.
I strike every day for the rainforest and every week for FFF. I’m one of the co-founders of Solo But Not Alone, a group that aims to empower solo strikers and uplift their voices. You can find us on Twitter @solo_not_alone.
I work a lot around climate justice and with African activists. An Amazonian FFF group once called me ‘the most active person, in the global North, for the global South.’ (I don’t know that I’d say so myself but 🤷🏼♀️)
On November 8th, 2019, my life basically changed forever. Not super dramatically. Not negatively. Not in some huge, world-shaking way. But it definitely changed. A hell of a lot!
Because on November 8th, I did my first ever strike for the Congo rainforest.
The Congo basin, of which the forest is part, sits in the heart of Africa, spanning six countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo. Millions of people directly rely on the forest. And the entire world needs it, even if we don’t know this.
The Congo is the second-largest rainforest on the planet. It is home to incredible species found nowhere else, such as the okapi, a relative of the giraffe. But. Every day, more and more trees are cut down, more and more species lost.
In late 2019, fires burnt through the forest. Fires for clearance, fires for all kinds of reasons. Fires that got out of control. Fires no-one talked about.
That is why I stood there that day, November 8th, in the town center of Aigurande, a small place in France, near where my dad lives. But the tragedy of the rainforest did not start there. Deforestation in the Congo has been going on for years.
And whether the fires are burning or not, the forest is being destroyed. The lives of the Indigenous communities who live there are being destroyed. Conflict, illness, and poverty have made it all worse. And then the big corporations, who are responsible for so much of this, will try to deflect blame. Onto the people of the area. Onto those who cut down trees to burn, because they have no other way to keep warm.
Rather than blaming those people, people who are just trying to survive, the corporations should be looking at their (huge) part in ruining those lives. But they won’t. Not unless we hold them accountable.
Of course, we can’t hold them accountable, as people of their countries, assuming we know everything about this.
Those of us in this campaign who are white, and do not come from Africa, cannot take front and center. We can never presume to dictate what would be best for the Indigenous people of that area. Instead, all decisions about the rainforest need to be led by those who know the most about it.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight. Partly because, and this makes me so furious, in this world order, it is more likely that corporations and governments will listen to people like me, rather than to the people who directly rely on this forest, the people who should be being heard. And also, because everyone should fight for places like the Congo, because we are a global family.
We can’t just focus close to home, especially if we are living in a privileged place. Another reason is that it can be really hard to speak up if you live in a place like the DRC, as we in the team know from working directly with activists from there.
Obviously it is SO, SO important that we who aren’t on the frontlines never assume we know what is best for those who are. And that, if we ever do, someone is there to tell us where we are going wrong.
There is one argument against this campaign which I really hate, because it erases so many voices. And that is that we are just ‘white people fighting for the Congo’ (the gist being that we are doing it to make us seem like heroes).
This erases all the incredible people of color who are fighting this fight.
It erases Vanessa Nakate and Remy Zahiga, our INCREDIBLE cofounders. Vanessa Nakate. Remy Zahiga. Kaossara Sani. Maureen Damen. Manu Kabila. Edwin Namakanga. Almamy Ba. Nyombi and Kimberlyn Morris. Mulindwa Guy. Junior Eketshu.
These are just a few of the names you need to know, far more than mine. They come from Uganda, DRC, Togo, Senegal. Countries that we in Europe hardly even mention. Countries that have incredible climate activists. Frontline activists. Activists who are risking so much more than I am.
So join the fight! We need you, too. And this isn’t just a campaign. It is a family. That is one of the reasons why my life changed so much when I joined it. Over the past few months, we have built up this incredible community.
Through joining this campaign, I have gained some of the best friends I have ever had. If you are one of them… I honestly can never thank you enough. They are a light in the darkness. They are some of the most brave, passionate, determined, loving people I have ever met.
By joining this campaign, you don’t just bring us one step closer to preserving the beautiful Congo rainforest. You become another part of this amazing family, that now spans every continent of the world, excluding Antarctica!
I am going to end with a quote from Vanessa, one of the people in my life who has inspired me the most. (Shout out to you, girl! Thanks so much for always having time to be my friend, despite everything you are doing.)
And that quote is this
”Every country has a climate activist. Every climate activist has a voice. Every voice has a story to tell. Every story has a solution to give. And every solution has a life to change.”Vanessa Nakate – Founder RiseUpMovement
Don’t ever think your voice isn’t important. You may be a drop in the ocean… but without drops? There is no ocean.