If you’re at all interested in American politics, you may have heard of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, but what about her daughter? Isra Hirsi is already helping to save the planet at just 16 years old, having started her climate activism by joining her high school’s environmental club. This interest is a new one – even though Isra has been involved with social justice issues from a young age, throughout middle school she was mostly focused on the Black Lives Matter movement.
It wasn’t until she realised how disproportionately people of colour are affected by climate change that she began to speak up about the crisis. As a young, black, Muslim woman and the child of immigrants, she knew the importance of amplifying marginalised voices, and she began to work towards raising this awareness in environmentalist groups, noting that the movement is still predominantly white; “When we talk about the climate crisis and we don’t talk about these communities that are being affected, we create this circle of it becoming a white issue, or an issue that doesn’t care about black and brown bodies.”
In January 2019, she co-founded the US Youth Climate Strike and remains the organisation’s executive director, dealing with policy, advocacy and action. Her determination to shed light on climate change, especially for young people, was well rewarded in March, when approximately 1.6 million students across 120 countries gathered to demand action from adults in power, a strike that became one of the largest ever. Isra also took part in the global climate strike on 20 September, where she spoke at the march in Minneapolis, Minnesota, her home city.
In an interview for Grist, Isra was asked whether her inspiration regarding activism came from her parents. She denied this, claiming that it was her own learning process that motivated her. In fact, she had been frustrated with her mother’s presence in her work for months, saying, “I didn’t want to be known as Ilhan Omar’s daughter, I wanted to be known as myself.”
She need not have worried; Barack Obama tweeted about her this year, naming her among five young activists he hopes will inspire people to follow their example. And just recently, in late October, Isra received the Voice of the Future Award at WrapWomen’s Power Women Summit, proving that she is making a name for herself in the climate movement, outside of her mother’s shadow.