KASHA SEQUOIA SLAVNER discusses her journey as a filmmaker and activist, her new documentary, 1.5 Degrees of Peace, highlighting the interconnectedness between peace, and climate justice, and the value of the intergenerational connect. She is interviewed by PURNIMA RAMAKRISHNAN in the GLOW webinar series.
Q: Hi Kasha, thanks for joining us today.
KS: Thank you so much. It’s an honor to be here.
Q: You’re a Gen Z filmmaker, photographer, writer, and social entrepreneur, who is a passionate advocate for climate justice, peace, and gender equality. You founded The Global Sunrise Project at 15. You are a frequent UN Youth Delegate, have won the Diana Award and the Kim Phúc Award for Youth Peace leadership, and are one of the voices of SDG16+. You are also the 2021 Global Youth Climate Network Ambassador. Your first feature documentary, The Sunrise Storyteller, was screened at over 60 film festivals and has won over 29 awards.
How did you come to do all of these amazing things?
KS: I have been a social justice advocate since I was little, working in my local community. I grew up with a single mom who was highly passionate about gender equality, feminist issues, and the environment, so I absorbed a lot of her consciousness and care for the world. When I was 14, we joined an organization called The Canadian Voice of Women for Peace that had been working in the disarmament movement since the 1960s. We participated in a delegation to a United Nations conference on gender equality called The Commission on the Status of Women. That was my first trip outside Canada, my first time meeting people from all around the world, and my first time hearing stories from people at the grassroots level about their own communities.
Growing up, I had heard about other countries through a lens of sensationalism and stereotypes. I had seen the poverty, the war, the things that are highly polarized, but I hadn’t seen or heard the stories of triumph over adversity, of people doing great things despite the little resources they had. So, when I heard those stories for the first time, I was inspired to do something, to make a difference.
I thought about what I had to offer as a 14-year-old. I didn’t really know who I was, but I knew I wanted to inspire other people to make a difference in their communities. I decided to use my passion for visual storytelling. I was a hobby photographer at the time, with no professional experience, but I wanted to travel and share stories, so that other people could feel empowered to take action in their communities.
That’s how The Sunrise Storyteller came to be. I was going to travel, take photos, and write a blog, but it soon developed into a film project, even though I had no prior experience of film-making. I thought, “I need to help these stories come to life, give people a platform to share their stories.” I took a year out of school to pursue this.
Art as an enabler
Q: Kasha, tell us how art can be an enabler for social change and social impact.
KS: Art is a very special tool. People become statistics when we talk about them only from a fact-based perspective. Connecting with people’s experiences, and how they are impacted by issues, is a really profound way to move them into action and connect them with our shared humanity.
For example, climate change is a highly emotional issue. It impacts us at the level of survival. You can show those feelings. You can empower people with knowledge but also move them with stories. Whichever artform you use, whether it is music, visual art, mixed media, photography, or anything else, it has a power to really impact people.
It also helps us reframe our narratives. What narratives do you want to tell about the world? What narratives do you want to create going forward? What vision do you have? Art can show the reality of the world, and it can also help you dream up a new world.
Q: You use the phrase, “intergenerational partnerships.” There are GEN Zs, Millennials, and GEN Ys. There is wisdom to be harnessed from the older generations, and dynamism to be harnessed from the younger generations. How can we harness the power of the intergenerational connect?
KS: Intergenerational partnerships are very special for me because I grew up as an only child in the company of my mom and her circles of social justice advocates. I was always listening to the conversations of my elders. Intergenerational partnerships are key to creating effective social justice movements, because we have shared responsibility to be caretakers of the Earth, its people, and all living beings.
In the past couple of years, youth activists have really taken to the forefront, so we hear others saying, “Okay, we are leaving it to you, we trust you with this.” While it’s a nice sentiment, it’s almost disempowering because it feels like, “This is the world we have inherited, and we are responsible for it.” Young people are not in positions of power in corporations or governments. We have taken on the responsibility of starting our own organizations, but we do need the privilege that elders have to uplift our messages, to hear our voices, and to train us to come to decision-making tables informed and ready to advocate for our needs.
Many times, you’ll see that we are invited for the purpose of advocacy and we are given a youth voice, but we are not allowed to say what we really feel, or we are not prepared to negotiate, or we don’t have the knowledge to write policies, so we are brought in, then excluded.
Intergenerational partnerships are key to
creating effective social justice movements,
because we have shared responsibility
to be caretakers of the Earth,
its people, and all living beings.
Tokenism happens. Youth are brought to the table so that everyone has a clear conscience, they have done a good thing, but it is unconscionable that it stops there. We have to turn the inspiration and resilience we see from youth activism and bring about concrete action. That requires the help of intergenerational partnerships. We have a limited time for action, we need effective action, and we don’t have time to be spinning our wheels.
Q: What do you think about the intersectionality between climate, peace, and the other SDGs? How do you see them all working together?
KS: No issue is separate from the others. Everything is interconnected. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. It’s clear to me that climate justice affects peace. When people don’t have their basic needs met, there are violent reactions, there is hoarding, there is competition for resources, and interpersonal conflict. There is also the issue of nuclear disarmament. The whole process of creating and storing nuclear weapons destroys environments, often where indigenous communities live, where the mining happens. We are also seeing more refugees due to climate change, so again interpersonal conflicts. These are really critical intersection points that affect women and girls disproportionately.
When you start looking at the intersectionality of two issues, you see how they link to all the others – those listed as SDGs and those not listed as SDGs.
Q: I can feel the passion and activism in your voice. What does the word “activism” mean to you? Activism has an element of dynamism – I don’t want to use the word violence. How can you be proactive and dynamic, and see the fruition of your aspirations, without using violence?
KS: The way we use language is indicative of our culture and a reflection of society. Sometimes we use violent language to describe everyday things, but activism is not one of those things. To me, activism is caring in action. It has “act” in it, and that means standing up for justice, standing up for the liberation of all people. If we don’t, we perpetuate violence against others.
To me, activism is proactive. It’s not always campaigning and lobbying, it’s not always taking a leadership role. Sometimes it’s participating in a movement. Sometimes it’s expressing care for the world through art, through workshops, or working with youth directly. It’s so clear in my heart that it is caring for other people, and taking on our collective responsibility to care for the planet.
Activism is proactive. It’s not
always campaigning and lobbying,
it’s not always taking
a leadership role. Sometimes
it’s participating in a movement.
1.5 Degrees of Peace
Q: Kasha, tell us about of your latest movie, 1.5 Degrees of Peace.
KS: Through 1.5 Degrees of Peace, I hope to make the connection between peace and climate justice very clear, highlighting those on the ground in the forefront of both movements.
We need to bring those two movements together to bring effective action. Both issues are staring us down from the future, but they are also happening now. Sometimes, we may not see the effects, but people in other places see the effects. We need to confront the challenges and find creative solutions for action, for positive change. I hope to do justice to the scale of the issues and also show opportunities for action. That is my goal for 1.5 Degrees of Peace.
Q: What do you think of the role of heart-based meditation in fulfilling the SDGs, predominantly peace? And can peaceful individuals help to achieve the SDGs?
KS: It’s very important to cultivate a peaceful harmonious humanity. To cultivate peace, we need an element of peace within. We need harmony within ourselves. I meditate and do physical practices that help me to be more mindful. I try my best, I am not perfect, but I continue to work at it. I think it’s critical for a peaceful world.
We have a shared responsibility
to care for the planet,
and also to care for ourselves
in the process.
Q: Kasha, are there any closing thoughts you would like to share with us?
KS: Please remember that you have the potential to make a positive impact in the world. Also, reflect on what issues you care about most. Your contribution is necessary. We have a shared responsibility to care for the planet, and also to care for ourselves in the process. I invite you to reflect on that.
PR: Thank you so much, Kasha.
To watch the full interview, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQGIwhl4PwY.
Kasha Sequoia Slavner
Kasha is a Gen Z filmmaker, photographer, writer, social entrepreneur, and advocate for climate justice, peace, and gender equality. She founded The Global Sunrise Project and her first documentary, The Sunrise Storyteller, was screened at over 60 film festivals and has won over 29 awards.