Inspiring Activists: Tori Tsui

Sometimes the world seems like a grey and difficult place where only bad things happen. It is true that there’s a lot of horrible things going on which is caused by some really bad people. But there are also so many amazing people in the world creating change and making a difference, they’re just not reported on as much as the bad guys that make ‘interesting’ news. So I want to change that and interview some of the lovely people out there that are seeing the bad stuff and challenging it, opening conversations and creating a better world. This is where you can learn more about their work and feel inspired and empowered by what they do.

The first activist I’ve interviewed is one of my favourite climate activists: Tori Tsui. Tori is a brilliant intersectional climate activist and mental health advocate who has done many incredible things, like sailing to Latin America as a part of a think tank called ‘Sale to the COP’ for the 2019 UN Climate Conference. She regularly talks about issues on the climate crisis, race and mental health on her Instagram platform and the podcast she co-runs, the Bad Activist Podcast. I had the honour of asking her a few questions about her activism and here is what she said:

What made you want to be a climate activist? Like most people my activism has evolved and shifted. Initially my drive to become a climate activist was because I was so incredibly eco-anxious and felt disheartened by the lack of mobilisation around the climate crisis. Since then my worldview has expanded a lot and as an intersectional climate activist, I’ve learned that being a climate activist for me is so much more than advocating for the physical environment. Environments are also social and to negate how they have an impact on our planet and people is problematic. After all, so much of the climate crisis is owed to systems of oppression and how they harm marginalised people. I always ask myself, ‘if my activism only focuses on my surroundings, then who is my activism even for?’

What does activism mean to you?
Activism to me means being a disruptor. Disrupting systems which hopefully leads to change! Talking about ‘uncomfortable’ but very needed topics. Challenging the status quo. Being inclusive and collaborative. Having conversations but also knowing where to draw the line. Living sustainably through radical self-care and appreciation. 

What is an intersectional activist?
To understand intersectional activism you have to appreciate where intersectionality has come from. Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term and used it primarily to talk about intersectional feminism to describe how her experiences with racism as a Black woman heavily intertwined with her experiences as a woman. Crenshaw is not the only Black innovator to talk about intersectionality, much of Audre Lorde’s work spoke about the interplay of sexism, racism and homophobia, without terming it as such. Intersectionality invites us to understand how different systems of oppression interplay and further propagate one another. To be an intersectional activist means that you understand how social injustices play into climate injustice (in my instance). It means that you advocate for the justice of society’s most marginalised.

How did you start your journey into intersectional climate activism? 
It’s been a gradual process. I don’t deny that a lot of the stuff I talk about now has concerned me before, but a lot of understanding myself and my own struggles has played a role in being more intersectional. For instance, I never really understood what it meant to be a woman of colour myself living with chronic mental health conditions. I knew I held a lot of privilege, and I did whatever I could to assimilate, and failed quite a lot of the time. Until the past two years, I’ve never really appreciated how my identity plays into my activism. And through understanding myself and learning from fellow activists, I believe I’m more able to champion intersectionality in a way that makes sense to me.

Why is it important for discussions on the environment to include the topics of race and mental health? The climate crisis is ultimately built on racial injustice, and we see it today. In this hyper capitalistic system we see marginalised people continuously be exploited so that a lot of privileged white folks can line their pockets at the top. Meanwhile, it is those who are marginalised who will experience the brunt of the climate crisis despite causing the least amount of ‘damage’. Racism is also rooted in colonisation and it is no coincidence that the powers that be are the way they are due to exploitation of countries in the global south or the exploitation of indigenous peoples in what is now called the global north. All of these systems are heavily intertwined.

To be a climate justice advocate is to recognise these monstrosities of the past, present and sadly future. Similarly, mental health is something which is deeply personal to me. Not only due to my pre-existing mental health conditions but also realising that in this world, we do not advocate for the mental wellbeing of marginalised people. I always ask, who was the term ‘eco-anxiety’ designed for? Because it seems to be a conversation we’re having in the global north without actually truly acknowledging the effect that the climate crisis will have on marginalised people. We’re also not expanding eco-anxiety to include racial anxiety, sexism anxiety and more. Mental health simply cannot exist in boxes. We need to acknowledge that mental health needs to be intersectional. 

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be? 
That’s a hard one but I guess for this world to be more compassionate. 

Any advice for other activists who struggle with mental health? 
Organise, mobilise, support one another. We must realise that we are in this together. Community can be very healing!

What is one thing readers can do that will make the biggest impact on the environment? 
I believe it’s listen to marginalised people and climate activists. We need to make sure these stories and perspectives are representative. We need to stop pinning our individualistic actions against each other as a way to solve the climate crisis. 

 If you could have a dinner party with any three people who would you choose and why?
My goodness this is a hard one because I keep wondering whether I’d so it for intellectual and personal indulgence or for the potential to make the most change. Probably a mix of both!  I think if I could I’d sit down with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Raoni Metuktire and Malala Yousafzai.

How can people support your work? I guess the first thing to plug is my social media – I’m @toritsui_ on Instagram. I also run a podcast with two other activists Julia Gentner (@jugentner) and Kisjonah Roos (@kisjonah) called Bad Activist Podcast. To support our work we have a Ko-fi page www.ko-fi.com/badactivistpodcast where you can contribute funds to the podcast’s maintenance and compensate guests! 

Thank you so much Tori for giving such amazing answers and for all the work that you do. Make sure to follow Tori on her social media and check out the podcast too.

I hope you guys feel as inspired as I do by all of Tori’s work. Just from following her Instagram page I’ve learned a lot about intersectional environmentalism, and her work has also helped me to recognise that real self care and taking care of your mental health is in itself a form of radical activism. Something as simple as opening these important conversations on social media can make a difference to so many people. You have the power to do that too.

Do you know of any inspiring activists you’d like to see interviewed? I’d love to see your suggestions, comment down below!

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3 thoughts on “Inspiring Activists: Tori Tsui

  1. Wow, that’s a wonderful and inspiring article. I work with young people and was discussing Hope’s and fears for the future before half term. This has given me food for thought. Thank you both.

    Liked by 1 person

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