“It’s a question of survival,” says Destiny Boka Batesa, 19-year-old co-founder of Choked Up, talking about the toxic air pollution on our streets.
An invisible killer; air pollution is a hard topic to drive action around. But Destiny found a way. Launching a hard-hitting air pollution campaign, they made national news, sparking a UK-wide conversation about how inequality affects the air we breathe.
Placing guerilla style ‘Breathing kills’ signs around black and brown communities in Catford, Brixton, and Whitechapel, the campaign depicted a mother and child with Afro Hairstyles with the warning of ‘Pollution Zone’.
The campaign gained critical acclaim and UK-wide coverage. Creating visibility around an invisible issue. As Destiny describes, this makes it even more dangerous: “you can’t see the air; you can’t see how badly it impacts you until you see your friends and family really ill.”
Air pollution is an inequality issue
So why does inequality affect the air we breathe? Dealing with people on social media, Destiny got pretty good at describing it. They told us, “I’m not dismissing that you might have health problems. I’m saying that black and brown people suffer more because of it.” This is why the issue of air pollution, and the entire climate crisis, has structural inequality, racism and extractive practices at its heart:
- Not having enough green space where you live
- Commuting to school on a high road by foot
- Too many cars and gridlock increasing fumes
- Car exhaust fumes at the same height of a child
Doing this work isn’t easy. “Being a person of colour, being black in these spaces is really, really difficult. Because you tend to clock that people see climate justice or climate activism in general versus white middle class activity. And it’s actually not, because we should be at the forefront of a movement that we’re suffering the most from.”
“We should be at the forefront of a movement that we’re suffering most from”Destiny Boka Batesa
What’s next for Choked Up?
And they’re not stopping there – Choked Up is pushing for laws to enshrine our right to clean air.
“What we actually really want to do is nip it in the bud to ensure that every single life is preserved. We should all be able to just breathe healthily. It’s literally the bare minimum,” Destiny says.
Explaining further, Destiny explains they’re next mission is to “ensure that black and brown lives are protected in law. And it starts with the government actually having, you know, sustainable targets.”
Talking about their four siblings, Destiny says “they absolutely eat up everything I do… they’re my biggest cheerleaders.” Reflecting on the journey of Choked Up, they share how the campaign has been a useful medium by which to express their anger, passion and sadness as part of the youth climate movement.
But the overwhelming reaction has helped encourage them to keep going: “It’s a collective thing. And collective power is important,” they share.
In this conversation, hosted by advocate and activist Ben Hurst and director of TEDxLondon Maryam Pasha, Choked Up co-founder Destiny Boka Batesa shares what environmental racism looks like, how you can be a climate campaigner and still shop at Urban Outfitters, and why, even though this is a question of survival, it’s not too late!
As Destiny says, “it’s really nice and refreshing to feel like you can do the right thing.”
Until next time – stay Curious!