Young people having been popping up all over New Zealand, running for their local councils in a movement called the ‘youth quake’. We spoke to Sarah Thomson, a young woman part of this movement about her passion for climate action, how to make a change and what she thinks about young people running for council.
Tell us about yourself!
I was born on the outskirts of Hamilton and grew up in a family of six. My dad is a conservationist, so I developed a love of nature at a very young age. I went to high school at Fairfield College, where I was head girl in 2008, and later studied for a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws at the University of Waikato. During my time at Waikato I spent time teaching English and studying Mandarin in China, which was an amazing opportunity to understand another language and culture.
While in university, I became increasingly concerned about the climate crisis, the unequal impact that it will have on the poor and our youth, and the lack of action I was seeing. In 2015, while still a law student I filed a judicial review case against the New Zealand government to challenge its inadequate climate targets, which was eventually heard in the High Court of Wellington in 2017. While the Court didn't order the relief that I sought, the case has helped to lay the legal foundation for future climate change cases to come.
For the last couple of years I have worked in Auckland as both a commercial and community lawyer. I love my work as a community lawyer, as I get to help people with legal issues that have a direct impact on their lives, including employment, debt, housing and family issues. While in Auckland, I also helped to lead a local advocacy group to press the council to take action on climate change, which has given me insights into the workings of local government and grown my passion for politics.
What pushed you to actually file a judicial lawsuit?
The urgency of climate change. The fact that it's going to impact most on those who haven't caused the problem. And the fact that we can still turn things around! I thought about having kids in the future and wanted to be able to tell them that I fought hard for a better future for them.
Climate Change inaction seems to be your main motivator for running for council. There has been a lot of press about how young people are too optimistic about the changes that council can make towards this- what practical changes would you push for on council for Hamilton in regards to climate change?
I truly believe that, while we might be a small country, we've got to do our part. Not only that, we have the opportunity of a lifetime to improve the well-being of our communities! Local climate action has huge benefits for both people and the environment. More bike lanes and public transport mean cleaner air, healthier people and more equal opportunities. More efficient buildings mean healthier, warmer homes and lower electricity bills. More trees mean happier people and a more beautiful city! While people talk about the cost of action, another way to look at it is an investment into creating a better place for us all to live.
What would you say to other young people who are seeing injustice but don't know how to act upon it?
I think the world's problems and injustices can feel overwhelming - I often feel overwhelmed myself. Sometimes you've just got to take things step by step. Don't take everything on your shoulders, but focus on what you can do to make a difference, even if its small. Soon you'll find doors will open for you to do even bigger things.
How do you think learning another culture and language will help you in your running for council?
I think learning someone's language helps to build a very personal connection with them. It also means I can connect with those who aren't very confident in speaking English.
Are you still in Auckland? Why not run for Auckland council?
I'm still working at my law job in Auckland a couple of days a week, but spending most of my time in Hamilton now. Hamilton is where I grew up and have lived most of my life, it's where family is, and where my husband I would like to settle down. I know the city well, and so I felt like it was the right decision to move back and stand for Council here in Hamilton.
What are your main goals for your campaign and why?
Getting elected as councillor! The best way to make positive change is being around the decision-making table. I'm staying philosophical though. Even if I'm not elected this will have still been an incredibly enriching experience. I have met so many great people along the way, and feel more passionate about our city and communities than ever before.
What would you say to people who think young people (under 40) are too young to run for council?
What matters is a person's attitude, values and work ethic, regardless of their age. Also, age isn't always a good reflection of life experience. There are plenty of examples of people under 40 achieving great things. Our own Prime Minister is under 40, after all!
If you would like to find out more about Sarah, or support her running for council you can pop over to Facebook here or you’ll find her website here.
If you didn’t manage to get your enrollment in by Friday 16th August you’ll have to request a special voting paper from your local Electoral Officer – if you just need to check your enrollment details you can still do so at vote.nz.
Among our normal #WomanCrushWednesday posts, YWCA Hamilton will be running #WCW with local women that are running for Hamilton City Council, Mayor and Waikato Regional Councils. We want to support all women who are running in the local elections this year, as well as supporting women in the Waikato to vote for a representative that support them.