These in-their-own-words pieces are told to Patricia Lane and co-edited with input from the interviewee for the purpose of brevity.

Jacqueline Lee-Tam provides meaningful support for grassroots climate justice groups. As the director of the Climate Justice Organizing Hub, this 24-year-old Montrealer helps thousands of Canadian volunteer climate activists learn from each other.

Jacqueline holds a screen print of art by Christi Belcourt and Isaach Murdoch at the Sept. 27, 2019 climate strike. Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Lee-Tam

Tell us about your project.

In 2020, the founders of the Climate Justice Organizing Hub had over 100 conversations with local climate justice-concerned groups asking what they need to continue to do their work and to do it better. They said they needed help developing effective campaign strategies, structuring their groups so decision-making was shared but still got things done, designing processes for making optimal decisions, active avoidance of oppressive practices and managing and avoiding conflict. They also told us burnout was a major drain on their resources. Activists also want to learn best practices in digital organizing and community care.

Canada is rich in activists. We help connect them to each other. A workshop might present lessons learned in a particular campaign or through a particular struggle. We might convene a problem-solving circle with groups encountering a similar set of problems. We curate a library of tool kits, webinars, essays, guides and other advice. Since we are serving volunteers, we are glad our funders allow our services to be offered free of charge.

Jacqueline behind the megaphone at a rally opposing the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in 2018. Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Lee-Tam

Tell us about some successes.

In Quebec, we supported local volunteers to campaign for permanent residence for temporary foreign workers in agriculture and the gig and care economies.

As the director of the Climate Justice Organizing Hub, this 24-year-old Montrealer helps thousands of Canadian volunteer climate activists learn from each other. #YouthClimateAction

In Ontario, we gathered 25 local climate action groups to learn how to support Anishnabe-led efforts to protect moose populations in La Vérendyre wildlife reserve on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people.

After taking our distributed organizing training, a coalition of Quebec climate and union organizers is planning the next general climate strike.

In Saskatchewan, we coached a local climate action group through a restructuring process that helped them “unstick.” They are now moving forward.

One-hundred and fifty climate activists gathered in person at three events in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver to reground, boost morale, deepen relationships and share their visions. We are planning similar conversations in the Prairies and Maritimes.

We have delivered 500 interventions serving 2,000 organizers in 150 local groups across the country — and we’re just getting started!

Jacqueline and Kate Hodgson at a protest organized by Divest McGill in 2019, calling on the university to divest its endowment fund from the fossil fuel industry. Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Lee-Tam

What makes this work hard?

Institutional barriers often block effective engagement. Canadian laws regarding tax deductions for donations make funding tough for small groups wanting to make change by engaging with decision-makers. I am proud that our work helps bridge this divide, but the need out there is enormous.

Sometimes, larger institutions like governments and industry look down on grassroots groups as disorganized and chaotic. It can be challenging to persuade them to take this energy seriously. Refusing to do so is a big mistake and too often results in people feeling disempowered and disillusioned, which is bad for our democracy.

How did you come to this work?

My elementary school principal told us compelling stories with strong moral values, like the importance of patience both with ourselves and others, caring and the idea of selfless service. One story, in particular, was about being like bamboo. She showed us how bamboo bends, but doesn’t break, how it is flexible but deeply rooted. This is a teaching I come back to time and time again.

I knew I wanted to have a life of meaning through service to the greater good. This, combined with my mother’s talent for organization, gave me the confidence to know that if I prepare well, the bumps in life are more easily smoothed out.

Jacqueline and Aliénor Rougeot presenting at The Philanthropy Workshop’s 2022 Global Summit on the imperative of resourcing grassroots activism to create the societal shifts necessary for bold climate action. Photo courtesy of The Philanthropy Workshop

What do you see if we get this right?

I live in Montreal, which has had more effective rent control than many other places. My friends in Vancouver marvel at the vibrancy and variety of artistic and creative endeavours here. I think this is in part because many people do not have to work all their waking hours just to make ends meet. I love to imagine what it would be like to live in a society that respects love and leisure, which is our birthright. The people we serve are determined to help bring that world into being.

Do you have any advice for other young people?

Activism does not fit any one mold. In my own case, I have chronic pain from scoliosis and each day must be taken at a time. Pain has changed how I move through the world. I used to be the person who went to all the protests and made and carried the banners and led the crowds. But my role must be different now. I have learned you don't need to fit a certain identity to make a difference. This moment and this movement need us all.

What would you like to say to older readers?

Thank you for being interested in our work and my story. Older people who lift up the next generation are really important. Maybe you know or are part of a local volunteer group that has wisdom to share or a concern that needs addressing. Let us know. The movement will be richer for it.