What It’s Really Like To Be A Climate Change Activist In Quarantine

In Trailblazers: Diaries From The Front Lines Of The 2020 Election, we take an in-depth look at the lives of women working behind the scenes to make our country better every day, whether it’s on a presidential campaign or political advocacy organization.
Name: Sophia Kianni
Occupation: Climate activist! National strategist for Fridays for Future USA and international spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion
Age: 18
Gender Identity: Woman
Location: McLean, VA
Social Media Handles: @SophiaKianni on Instagram 

Day 1: Monday, April 20, 2020

8:30 a.m. — I wake up bleary-eyed to my mom shaking me, explaining that I’ve overslept my alarm. Except, for once, I haven’t set an alarm! She thinks I’m about to miss my talk show interview, but it’s actually at 8:30 p.m. I tell her not to worry and roll back over, burrowing beneath the folds of my comforter. I can tell it’s the start of a long day. 
10:30 a.m. — I wake up feeling refreshed and recharged. I grab my phone off my nightstand, and the first thing I do is check my email inbox. There is a steady stream of climate-activism-related requests, and I spend 30 minutes replying to emails and flagging important updates. 
11 a.m. — For breakfast, I mix some granola and honey with cottage cheese.
11:15 a.m. — I jump in the shower and blast my old throwback playlist — listening to Jason Derulo really gets my creative juices flowing. I throw on a sweatshirt and do my makeup to film a video about my vision for climate action for a compilation the United Nations Foundation is putting together for Earth Day. I carefully balance my phone on my bedroom windowsill to take advantage of the good lighting. These days, the only time I ever get ready is to record a Zoom call or give a virtual speech. 
1 p.m. — I start scheduling interviews and writing questions for a podcast I’m hosting with The New Fashion Initiative, a sustainable fashion nonprofit. I go through my list of participants, sending out individualized emails and calendar invites. I accidentally schedule a Zoom call for 1:30 a.m. on Friday instead of 1:30 p.m. and feel mortified when my interviewee jokingly points out my mistake. I’ve noticed a large uptick in podcast creation as climate activists have started adapting to life under quarantine. Since we can’t hold physical strikes or events, our alternative plans include virtual advocacy and education initiatives.
2 p.m. — I decide to take a break and read through the daily headlines on Google News while munching on frozen grapes. After scrolling for 10 minutes, I realize that my eyes are starting to ache, thanks to the hours of screen time I’ve accumulated while glued to my phone. I decide to pick up where I left off in House Of Leaves by Mark Danielewski, a book my friends and I are reading as part of a virtual book club. 
3:30 p.m. — Before my Zoom call with my Fridays for Future USA team, I grab a quick lunch, reheating last night's vegetarian pizza.
4 p.m. — The call begins with planning content for the 24-hour FFF international livestream on April 24. Everyone laments the number of Zoom calls they have scheduled and the general pandemonium that has preceded this atypical Earth Day. We were planning to mobilize millions of people to participate in physical strikes, but having a mass digital mobilization seems like the next best alternative. 
6 p.m. — My mom makes me dinner while I check the progress of the green onions I’ve been growing after being inspired by a TikTok. All of my extra free time has enabled me to learn how to cook (although "cook" would probably be a generous characterization given that I’ve mostly been trying easy online three-ingredient recipes).  
7 p.m. — I’m supposed to have a website-planning call for the nonprofit I’m starting, Climate Cardinals (CC), but one of my team members cancels last-minute. We decide to reschedule for tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. The silver lining of this pandemic is that people always have some free time to have a call — even on short notice! I spend my extra time checking WhatsApp, Keybase, and Slack for progress on various Earth Day initiatives.  
8:15 p.m. — I go on Instagram to join the talk show Verifiable Talks Live hosted by Chris Bivins. I talk to him about my work with Extinction Rebellion, Zero Hour, and Fridays for Future. I explain how witnessing Iran’s polluted sky in middle school, when I spent a summer there with my mom's family, inspired me to begin my environmental advocacy. In the comment section, one kind user remarked, “Wow. You are so well-spoken for being in high school.”

Witnessing Iran’s polluted sky in middle school inspired me to begin my environmental advocacy.

9:30 p.m. — I FaceTime my friends from school and spend 30 minutes unwinding and catching up. 
10:30 p.m. — I check my email inbox and respond to the dozen emails that have trickled in over the past few hours. I also catch up on some schoolwork.
11 p.m. — I make a to do list in my Notes app, marking the times for my five calls tomorrow, reminding myself to follow up on old emails and pitches, and writing down the due dates for schoolwork. My virtual classes restart tomorrow morning, and I am not looking forward to another day of Blackboard collaborative sessions.
12 a.m. — I read House of Leaves until my eyelids begin to droop. Time to hit the hay!

Day 2: Tuesday, April 21, 2020

8:30 a.m. — My alarm jolts me awake and I let out an audible groan. I roll over to silence it and check my inbox; to my surprise, I find out that synchronous learning sessions have been canceled due to continuing issues with Blackboard. I decide to go back to bed, pleased that I am once again able to catch up on sleep.
9:30 a.m. — I wake up feeling rested and ready to tackle the busy day ahead.
9:45 a.m. — I make myself a bowl of greek yogurt with fresh strawberries and frozen blueberries. I scroll through my emails and respond to a few last-minute requests. It feels hard to believe that in just a day, it will be time for Earth Day Live, the culmination of hundreds of hours of planning by climate activists across the globe
10 a.m. — Emails, emails, emails.
11:30 a.m. — I finally have my call with my Climate Cardinals team! Without the extra time I’ve gotten during quarantine, I wouldn’t have been able to make this project a reality. My idea for the nonprofit started after noticing a lack of accessibility in the climate movement to those who didn’t speak English. Students will receive volunteer service hours to translate climate change research and information into different languages. We spend half an hour planning the website layout and strategizing new content development. I’m most excited about the partnership I have just formed with Radio Javan, a Persian radio station with over 10 million followers on Instagram. 
12 p.m. — Right after I hop off the CC call, I join a Google Hangouts meeting for my PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs Homegrown Fellowship. We talk about what we’re going to do with the footage we’ve shot and edited over the last few months and brainstorm virtual projects we can pursue while quarantined. 
1 p.m. — I spend over an hour practicing for the lecture I’m giving virtually at earthday365, an Earth Day festival.
3 p.m. — I take a break and go on Pinterest. After I scroll past a picture of a pink-and-gold cake, I begin saving birthday party ideas. (Not like my birthday is months away on December 13 or anything…but a girl needs something to look forward to!)
4 p.m. — I translate information for a CC graphic I’m creating and draft up an email template that students can use to send their friends and family climate content in different languages. 
5 p.m. — I go on a run with my sister (while socially distancing!) through my local park and return home right in time for my third call of the day.
6 p.m. — I attend a messaging workshop on Zoom. I learn about effective climate messaging, taking into consideration how the global perspective has shifted in light of COVID-19. Hopefully it will come in handy tomorrow.
7 p.m. — Right after the call finishes, I attend the Extinction Rebellion (XR) DC Zoom divestment training, where I learn about how to move my money from a fossil fuel-investing bank account to an ethical bank account. I mostly attended with the intention of planning ahead for when I’m entirely financially independent, although I also plan to use the information to educate my relatives.
8:45 p.m. — I have a call with the XR DC media team, and we plan the social media content strategy for Instagram for Earth Day. I look into effective climate hashtags, and we discuss when will be the best time of day to post. (Having social media-savvy friends has paid off!)
9:30 p.m. — I check my email for the last time today!
10:30 p.m. — I start a new book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. I read for about 30 minutes to help calm my nerves. In just a few hours, I will be waking up to the 50th anniversary of Earth Day! I set my alarm for 7:30 a.m.
11:15 p.m. — I fall asleep excited, anxious, and full of hope. 
VICE and Refinery29 are committed to ongoing coverage of the global climate crisis. Read all of Refinery29's sustainability stories, and check out more Earth Day 2020 content from Vice.

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