Sister Magazine meets Daze Aghaji and Noga Levy-Rapoport
This piece was published in Sister Magazine's 'Self' issue - available here.
Activists Daze Aghaji and Noga Levy-Rapoport discuss their battle for climate justice, the importance of community, and how they maintain motivation in the face of crisis.
Today’s youth are the first generation to be raised with climate change in the school curriculum. They were born under holes in the ozone layer, and they breathe pollution on their commute. They grew up with single-use plastic and cheap air travel as the norm, before coming of age during record-breaking heat waves. It’s an undeniably frightening time to be young, staring down the barrel of an uncertain future while public figures clog media airwaves with climate change denial.
At the epicentre of a movement actively rebuking this narrative are friends Daze Aghaji and Noga Levy-Rapoport. A fixture on London’s streets during the Extinction Rebellion 2019 climate strikes, the pair are part of a new breed of distinctively Gen-Z activists who balance high-profile political work alongside university degrees — think Hannah Montana fighting the apocalypse. “I ran for MEP (Member of European Parliament) in my first year of university, whilst doing exams. Tell me about balance, right?” Daze laughs.
Though they're undeniably close today, they can’t pinpoint when their friendship began, debating for a few moments over a hiccuping zoom line (Daze puts it down to “boat WiFi”, having just moved onto a canal) before they conclude it was through work with Extinction Rebellion (XR), where both organised protests for counterparty XR Youth.
Generational divide today creates an uneasy atmosphere for young people attempting to protect their future, with older cohorts pinning unfulfilled ambitions on their shoulders while simultaneously igniting culture wars. For Daze and Noga, the idea of children being the future is less an optimistic catchphrase, and more a heavy burden that they carry tirelessly. The future, and the planet, are no longer something we can take for granted — but something that must be fought for. Hence XR’s tactics: a drastic solution for a drastic problem.
To embark on that fight, Daze adopts the attitude of being “purpose-driven”. “Anything that's got to do with climate justice, that is the purpose that I'm prepared to do more or less anything for. So whether that's duration, whether that's artistic exploration, whether that's content creation, whether that's research. Whatever contributes to the journey towards climate justice,” she explains.
Noga nods in agreement, admitting that her work began after turning up to the first ever climate strike and realising it was something she “absolutely had to do”, following her prior assumption that climate change was an “inevitable apocalypse that was due to happen”.
“I remember realising that actually, just standing around on the grass outside Westminster was not enough,” Noga says, recalling her earliest days in the movement. “I borrowed a cheap megaphone off a fellow protester, someone I'd never met before. And I started saying ‘Follow me down this road. We need to make some noise! We need to show those politicians voting on our future right now that we are serious about getting our voices heard’.”
And this urgency has not faltered since, as young people like Daze and Noga have poured onto the streets, newly captivated by politics and heavy with rage. The past three years have seen XR’s tireless campaigning put climate justice in the headlines. But it was the shock factor of their tactics that Daze admits initially led to her hesitation with joining the movement. “My best friend, Catherine, had told me about it. And she was like ‘Oh my God, you would totally love this’. And I was like ‘A bunch of white people glueing themselves to floors? Don't think it's my vibe’.”
Daze laughs at the memory of her life before XR now, a time when she was plagued by “so much anxiety” surrounding the environment. “It was basically me trying to micromanage a problem that I knew was way bigger than myself. That meeting changed the course of my life.” It was there she met XR co-founder Roger Hallam. “He was speaking about how he wants to shut down central London. I laughed hysterically because I thought this guy's off his rocker,” Daze recalls. “It was the moment where all the issues around the environment and the previous issues in my life around the social justice predicament of being a young black woman who grew up in poverty in London, were kind of coming together. And I was going through this really quick-paced education on how all these things collide.”
For Noga, this emphasis on political education has been responsible for the flurry of new activists taking to the streets. While the past five years saw major democracies elect far-right leaders, many young people revolted through increased political engagement, building communities, and sharing information through social media in attempts to counteract regressive acts from government leaders. Climate activism, she says, is a remedy for all. “It's a carbon issue. A housing issue. It's a gender issue. It's a migrant issue. It's a refugee issue. It's a racial justice issue. This is something that not only encapsulates all of the problems we're facing right now but offers the right solution,” she explains.
Though many young people proudly stand in their activism today, Daze initially had hesitations given the scale of ambition of the strikes: “I cried at like five AM the night before, thinking no one would show up. And then to see, like literally tens of thousands of young people… it was like we created the vision of what we hope the future is on the street.” She continues: “It was like the most magical thing, and whenever I feel overwhelmed by the issue that we're facing, or I feel like we're in a place where nothing's moving, I remember that. And that's the world that we can create.”
Perhaps it’s this sense of collectivism that separates youth activists from their adult counterparts. There’s a clear emphasis on solidarity, and an urgency to champion community and collaboration — a stark contrast to the ‘main character syndrome’ and individualism frequently attributed to this generation in much of the current youth culture reporting.
But Noga is keen to emphasise that these aren’t just friendly buzzwords — they’re the backbone of the movement occurring today: “Acting in solidarity isn't just like a fancy phrase that you can slap on things. These are things that actually you have to learn and understand how they come into play, and how you can participate, how you can act,” she says.
As they reunite on the day of our cover shoot, it’s evident that the time organising and facing political backlash together has been integral to building the solid foundation of their bond. Each outfit change is met with a string of sincere compliments, and they’re in constant fits of laughter — even as they guide a bee to safety while posing among wildflowers (characteristically careful not to destroy any of their fragile stems, of course).
In the hands of these communities, many young activists have found space to express their truest selves, allowing for valuable friendships built on a shared ethos. Daze admits before this period of her life she was deeply shy — an immense contrast to the assured public speaker she is today. But she’s quick to point out that this confidence has come from embracing the person she always was, rather than reinventing herself: “I don't hide my accent, I don't stop swearing, I bring my whole self to the table,” she says. “I bring the girl who grew up in North London, in Edmonton. I don't try to be anything else. Nor do I even want to be anything else.”
She continues: “When I teach people about politics and encourage young people to get involved in politics, I say it's not about changing them to fit the system, it's about them, bringing their whole selves, and basically saying the system needs to change for me.” Noga agrees passionately: “When we said system change, not climate change, we meant it. I have a vision of the future that is totally sustainable. And that is one in which young people are fully enfranchised, and one in which the way in which we live is communal.”
However, it’s a challenge to maintain passion for a movement that exists within a culture of burnout — its familiar symptoms are omnipresent in post-pandemic life. To counteract this, Daze recalls a shred of wisdom imparted by XR co-founder Gail Bradbrook: “I remember I was having this one moment, I was really frustrated with the movement. I was, like, totally freaking out, just about to leave. And she went ‘Daze. This is not a fight. This is a dance. It has absent flows. It's purposeful. It's forever moving. It's something that will take its time. And we have to be here for the whole song.’”
This respect for other activists doesn’t solely extend to their peers though, and Noga is wary of claiming responsibility for work accomplished by their predecessors: “I don't think we're the first generation to go, ‘Hey, this system is bullshit'. Because of course, we're not, and we're so lucky to have that history behind us. But we are the first generation to have a time limit. We have a deadline,” she says.
It’s a deadline that looms on the horizon, while obstacles increasingly emerge in the foreground. The political whirlwind of the past decade shows no signs of slowing down, and it can be overwhelming to focus on all these issues at once — especially amid a cost of living crisis.
But Daze argues this is all the more reason to stay focused: “It's so easy to think about it as just one individual's cost of living,” she says. “But this is the direct outcome of an entire international system that has brought together, honestly, some of the greatest evils and some of the greatest crises of our time. For the sake of profit.”
“What we're seeing is our world falling apart in many different ways. And the cost of living crisis is just a symptom of our failed systems. I think there is something to be said about this moment in time, even though it feels very bleak, right? But when you look at historical movements, when people have the least to lose, it’s when we start to see shit happen. So we're in this like, really amazing time as well. You can really claim agency and go like, I have nothing to lose right now. Therefore, I'm going to do everything. So I have something to gain.”
Though climate anxiety is rife, hope is essential in continuing the fight for any future. And Noga is very clear on her goals: “In the immediate short term, I want an anti-imperialist Green New Deal. And I want every single space to open up to young people.” The genuine sincerity in her voice doesn’t falter as she says: “But to have this long-term vision of something beautiful and hopeful, I think is the only way we can keep ourselves going.”
Follow @nogalevyrapoport and @dazeaghaji on Instagram.