Mobilizer for Change
In addition to their role on NRDC’s social media team, Tejal Mankad coleads the New York office’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. Previously, they served as a community advocate at CAAAV NYC and Asian Americans Advancing Justice: Asian Law Caucus, advocating for the empowerment and civil rights of low-income Asian American Pacific Islander and immigrant communities.
Why did you join NRDC, and what are you fighting for?
When I began my education studying environmental science, I quickly saw that the movement didn’t represent enough people who looked like me. As a second-generation South Asian immigrant, I’ve already seen the ways in which climate change has impacted where my family is from. But in the environmental space, I felt alienated and wasn’t sure there was a seat at the table for me. At NRDC, I’ve been on a journey of trying to advocate from the margins and center the voices of those who have not typically been represented in these spaces. It’s only through engaging with those individuals and groups that we can bring about equitable change.
You’re a New York chair of NRDC’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. How does that work reflect back out into our communities?
On the social team, I’ve been working to uplift narratives of NRDC staffers who aren’t always represented in this movement or who may not feel empowered. For example, I featured videos of staff on our Instagram for Pride Month, Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, and National Hispanic Heritage Month this past year, and our audiences responded really positively. I think those were important on so many levels. They gave us an opportunity to show how people’s diverse identities inform their work and how their work is then grounded in that perspective. And ultimately they help people see themselves in us.
You help foster community on our social platforms. Has that community changed over the past year?
I think both Trump’s anti-environment policies and the series of dire IPCC reports over the past year have caused a big surge in our social following. People feel galvanized to create change and to resist attacks on our climate, ecosystems, and health—especially the health of our most vulnerable and those disproportionately impacted. People are more willing to mobilize, to reach out through social media, and to learn more about what they can do to help solve problems. The climate crisis is also seeping into the way people think about and take action on injustice and inequity. There’s been a renewed sense of urgency to bring about systemic change—like supporting initiatives to improve public transit in this country—while also changing individual habits to reduce personal carbon footprints, like choosing to ride your bike to work.
On the social media team, we’re attempting to bridge the gap between those two means of action. For example, on our channels we’re regularly sharing tips on how to reduce single-use plastics in day-to-day life and explaining why that’s so important for our oceans, wildlife, and climate. But we’re quick to follow that up with an opportunity to support, say, a statewide plastic bag ban—which is the kind of systemic change that really carries the most weight. Transformation has to happen at both levels to stick.
Young people made history in September 2019 by participating in what was likely the largest-ever strike for climate action. What was the response on our social channels, and what do you think NRDC can learn from young organizers?
The reaction to the climate strikes was astounding. It was our most engaging content last fall. We definitely saw a hunger for more on-the-ground, direct action and mass mobilization, which was truly only possible at that scale because young people harnessed the power of social media. I was proud that NRDC supported their efforts and centered their voices while out there striking alongside them, because we can definitely learn from young people, too. Their imaginations are so vast. They know that our vision for the future doesn’t have to live within the confines of what we know or traditionally have engaged in—that in fact it can’t. Young people can help us imagine the society we want to live in, not just settle for. I want to help embody that spirit at NRDC so we can come up with innovative, bold, visionary ideas for moving forward.
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