meet the 19-year-old climate activist who ran for mep and isn't mad she lost
Politics student and Extinction Rebellion member Daze Aghaji is only just getting started.
Daze Aghaji. Photography Amber Pinkerton
Candidates usually mourn after losing an election, but Daze Aghaji seems happy. It is the day after she failed to become an MEP, and she is cackling over pizza in a south London pub: “Not going to lie, when people were saying "Oh, yeah, I think you might win," I was scared, and I'm so happy that I came nowhere near winning the seat.”
To be fair, Daze wasn’t your regular candidate; she stood as an independent for Extinction Rebellion, the campaigning and direct action group fighting against climate change. She is also 19 years old, and just finishing her first year studying politics and history at Goldsmiths university. If Daze doesn’t seem sad that she lost, it is because winning was never her goal; “I feel like I've gotten what I aimed to get out of this; raise consciousness of the environment and motivate young people to actually get involved in their democracy. That's been achieved,'' she explains. “I feel like it's a success because what I came in hoping to do has happened.”
It was not always obvious that Daze would turn into a teenage powerhouse of environmental activism; born in north London, she spent her childhood in a one bedroom flat with her mum, dad and two brothers, in “UK-relative poverty”.
The family’s salvation came from a restaurant her mum started when Daze was a kid, which turned into such a success that they were able to send her to boarding school (“in sunny Skegness!”).
“My mum came from a really poor family in Africa, so it was a privilege to be able to send your kids to have a really good education… I lived in Lincolnshire for around six years, and that's where I became really aware of the environment. At first, I was a real city girl, like "Don't touch me with that mud!" And then I really got into it. I got involved in the Eco society and I was on the Eco committee at my boarding house, and learning how to use a wormery and feed chickens, it was really wholesome.”
From there she got involved in “light green politics”, as she calls it, which mostly involved cutting down on plastic and eating less meat. But coming back to London for college turned her into more of a radical.
“My friend was like, “Ooh, there's something that I really want to go to and I think you'd be really interested”, and next thing you know, I'm at my first Extinction Rebellion meeting. XR has this amazing magic in the office, it is something really special and that's never been seen before and I think is actually going to work, so yeah, I just jumped straight in,” she says. “I realised that it was the kind of radical movement that's needed at this point, because we don't have time to do fluffy things anymore.”
As a member of XR’s youth wing, she helped organise the giant protest that blocked most of central London for several days in April -- while recovering from meningitis -- but did not want to stop there.
When it became apparent that the UK would be having European elections after all, XR co-founder Roger Hallam asked Daze if she’d consider running to be an MEP in May: “He talked about how we need to plan out financially how it was going to work out, because as I realised, you need a fuckton of money to run a campaign to become an MEP, which obviously excludes a large amount of the population. We had two days till the deadline to apply for candidacy, so I was like, 'Okay, if you get it, I will do it because it would be hilarious', because I thought he wouldn't get it. And sure as hell, Roger did.”
None of the people running for XR had ever stood for election before, and weren’t sure where to start (“We tried to look online, but there was nothing there”), so they decided to stick to their civil disobedience roots.
As a result, the campaign involved stunts like a press conference held with the candidates knee-deep in the Thames, and a stall set up outside Foxtons in Brixton, where they encouraged local residents to come discuss gentrification.
If their tactics are unconventional, it is because they think that the way climate emergency has been discussed so far has simply not been effective. “The more information people have, the less they're okay with it happening,” Daze says. “We know climate change is bad but when you say things like 'Oh, yeah, we need to stop the temperature rising by 1.5 degrees,' it doesn't sound that bad. But then when you tell people that 1.5 degrees is what melts the ice caps which hold methane, which will literally just pollute the Earth to the extent of it not coming back, 1.5 degrees is the difference between drought in some countries and heavy flooding... then they're like 'Shit, 1.5 degrees is a lot.'”
“We're not scientists; I by no means am a scientist or even begin to understand half the science behind climate change. It's about bringing it down to actual layman's terms where you can sit in a pub with your mate and just be like, looks like shit's about to go down, this is what's going to happen.”
Though she thinks that it is up to governments and corporations to drastically adapt their behaviour, it does not mean that individual choices cannot make a difference. Daze no longer eats meat or uses plastics, and tries not to take planes or buy new clothes.
Still, she admits that not everyone is in a position to massively reduce their carbon footprint. “We talk about race and class when it comes to environmentalism because corporations are making it hard to be someone with a poorer background and trying to live eco-friendly because it is just really expensive,” she explains.
“I'm going to Berlin soon, and you can buy a flight for 15 quid, but the train is like 250. It's the fact that it's so easy and a lot cheaper to live a high-carbon lifestyle. For example, when you go to Sainsbury's, you get three peppers in plastics for 55p, and one pepper outside of plastic for pretty much the same price.”
If Daze ran for MEP this year, it was to highlight the scale of environmental issues. And even though she is proud of it, she isn’t sure she would do it again. Now that her first year at university is (mostly) done, she is focusing on different projects, from trying to launch a website giving a space for young people to discuss climate change to helping out her friend who launched Fuck Fast Fashion -- which includes her “running workshops teaching people how to revamp clothes that they already have, and embroidery skills”.
“If you keep banging on that 'Aaaah, the planet is dying!' people listen,” she says. “Maybe it won't take the shape of another election, but I'm not done yet.”
Photography Amber Pinkerton