Getting stuff done with
Getting stuff done with Mikaela Loach
We’ve been taking some time to learn from people who are out there getting stuff done. Meet Mikaela Loach, an intersectional climate justice activist, podcast host, and medical student.
Tell us about your career journey.
I moved to Edinburgh, UK to start studying medicine and soon became aware that issues I cared about—anti-racism, feminism, climate change, wealth inequality and refugee rights—all intersected when it came to climate justice. It was at this moment that I realised that I needed to step up my activism and do more than just lifestyle change. I got involved with the Scottish climate movement, working with Extinction Rebellion and took part in direct action camping on the streets of London during the October Rebellion. Since being part of community grassroots activism, my eco-anxiety has lessened. I have hope that when we work together in community to agitate the oppressive systems that exist, radical change can happen. There’s a quote by Arhundati Roy that says “a new world is on her way, on a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” For me, it is when I work together, in community, to resist oppressive systems that I can hear her breathe.
Who inspires you and why?
Angela Davis is a huge inspiration of mine. In many ways her example has shown me what it means to be a Black woman in activism and to sustain passion for so long. To stay true to your values and to constantly and consistently advocate for better. I have learnt so much from her work, especially that outrage is necessary but that it cannot be the only thing which fuels our work. Every time I listen to her speak or read her words I am inspired, challenged and changed. She is an icon. I am also constantly inspired by the indigenous environmental rights defenders all over the world that have had no choice but to be fighting this fight for so long, and in the Global North we are only just beginning to catch up. Indigenous communities face violence daily in protecting the earth. We all owe them everything.
What cause or causes are important to you?
Whilst migrant and refugee rights, climate justice, ethical fashion, and anti-racism may seem like separate issues, they all overlap so much. Climate justice understands that all social justice issues are influenced and intersect with the climate crisis. Climate justice centres the struggles of the most marginalised at the centre of the climate movement. To me, this is of vital importance.
How do you incorporate sustainability into your life?
Like all of the issues I care about, I weave sustainability into everything I do. For a long time sustainability was present in my life only in the way of making lifestyle changes, like being vegan, boycotting fast fashion, and reducing my plastic waste. In the last few years I’ve realised how much only focusing on your own lifestyle isn’t the most effective way to be “sustainable.” I’ve started to think more about “sustainability for who?” If I - someone with time and financial privilege - can make these changes, but many others with less privilege can’t, then is that sustainable? I still have all of these lifestyle changes as key parts of my life, but I now combine them with working in my community to make these changes more accessible for all people.
Tell us about the Yikes podcast.
Yikes was the result of myself and co-host Jo (@treesnpeace) being frustrated with how limited conversations on social media can be about big social justice topics. It is so difficult to define, explain, and show the nuance in anything in the space offered by a caption or in a series of stories. We also saw how intimidated people can be in the face of a lot of these topics, and how often that can stop involvement in important conversations. We wanted to create a space where we could have important conversations about refugee rights, climate justice, allyship, anti-racism and so much more.
What are the challenges and benefits to activism on social media?
Social media is such a wonderful tool for activism. In many ways, this has democratised activism. If you have a smartphone and internet access, you have the ability to organise with people all over the world, hold those with power accountable and galvanise mass movements. We’ve seen it with Black Lives Matter recently - a movement which spread so quickly across the world, involving 18 countries and 50 states simultaneously even during a global pandemic. It’s powerful.
My greatest challenge with social media activism has definitely been shielding my heart a bit from the trolls and awful messages that I can receive after posting something. As a Black woman, it can definitely be scary to talk about racism online as I know that every time I do I will receive hate in my inbox. In this way, social media activism requires vulnerability and bravery - in sharing these things in the first place - and resilience to deal with the fallout. Moreover, finding a balance between trying to do the most work I can and also realising I am one person and can’t talk about every issue or be available 24/7 for everyone online is something that I find very challenging.
What first interested you in ethical fashion?
Watching the powerful True Cost documentary completely changed my life. It taught me about the human and environmental cost of fast fashion, such as the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh collapsing, killing over 1000 garment workers and the communities whose water is poisoned by dyes for clothes we don’t even need. My desire for expression of self through what I wear should not cause someone else’s oppression. In so many ways the fashion industry is one of the clearest examples of racism and modern-day imperialism. The labour of women of colour in the Global South is exploited in order to supply consumerist demands of people in the Global North. This should not be accepted. “Ethical” fashion should not be an optional extra but the bare minimum. All humans deserve to be respected and safe.
What can you share on the importance of the intersection between climate activism and anti-racism activism?
The foundation of the climate crisis is white supremacy and therefore our actions to combat the crisis must be anti-racist. Anti-racism is not only a link or an optional extra: it is the solution. Fossil fuels and extractive industries are the main driver of climate and ecological breakdown and these industries are modelled upon colonialism. Companies based in the Global North go to indigenous land or areas in the Global South and destroy the nature that exists there to extract fossil fuels for use largely in the Global North. The wealth that is generated from this practice is held within the Global North and the communities that live in the extraction areas experience violence and compromised human rights (see: Shell in the Niger Delta & the Ogoni people). In addressing this issue, we cannot ignore the racism that is present. Oppression and exploitation are not only the foundations of the climate crisis, but the crisis itself exacerbates existing inequalities. Communities of colour are hit first and hardest by the climate crisis worldwide and therefore the liberation of these communities from oppression is paramount.
Mikaela is wearing the Ariana Top in POPPYSEED.
If there’s one thing you wish you would’ve known when you started out, what would that be?
That speaking about my lived experiences of racism as a Black woman wouldn’t be as scary as I thought.* That my story is important too and that I have a right to tell it. *I mean, it was and still is scary. But, it has also helped me in so many ways!
What inspired you to be vegan?
Initially I went vegan 5 years ago for animal rights reasons. Also for “logical” reasons. I never know the best way to really describe it. I watched the “101 Reasons To Go Vegan” speech and went vegan overnight. I never really looked back, but it was after I had made that decision that I started looking into the environmental and social impact of the animal agriculture industry. I saw so many of the issues I cared about such as inequality, sustainability, animal rights, food rights and more were so interlinked. I now have a much more nuanced view of food and what it means to have a sustainable lifestyle, but veganism was my first step into that!
What does it mean for you to make activism inclusive?
Making activism inclusive means looking at who is the most marginalised in society, who is the most excluded or who experiences the most barriers to getting involved in activism, and then working to make spaces accessible to those people. Activism is for everyone. It just requires you to be an active citizen and stand up against something you see in the world that’s wrong. Good activism means letting go of ego a bit and moving from thinking “how can I do this?” to “how can WE do this as a community?”
Who is your favorite author?
Bernadine Evaristo. Her storytelling is absolutely magic. Girl, Woman, Other is my favourite book ever. She writes about the Black British experience with such elegance. I adore her work. Currently reading Mr. Lover Man also by her!
What’s the best thing you found shopping vintage?
My beautiful pink glossy evening dress! I found it in a vintage store in Amsterdam and it fit like a literal glove and only got it for 40 euros. I’ve worn it to weddings, balls and my 21st birthday dinner party. I always get heaps of compliments when wearing it and it’s extra fab to be able to say I bought it second-hand!
The best place to eat in Edinburgh?
Tough one!! Edinburgh is FILLED with vegan gems. I would say my absolute favourites are Beetroot Sauvage (for cake or brunch), Novapizza (for the best cheezy vegan pastas and pizzas), Harmonium (for a nice dinner out with cocktails) and Black Rabbit (for lunch and cakes!).
What are you bingeing right now?
Pose and I May Destroy You. Both are absolutely incredible works of art that have made me laugh, cry, relate, and feel such deep and powerful things. They’re the two best shows I may have ever watched!