Genesis Butler’s journey towards activism began when she asked her mom what chicken nuggets were made of.
After finding out the truth about her favorite food, the then-3-year-old Butler decided to stop eating meat.
By the time she was 6, she had transitioned to fully vegan, but Butler knew she wanted to do more than just change her eating habits.
“I’ve always liked animals since I was a little girl,” said Butler, who is now 16. “I knew that I wanted to do whatever I could.”
Butler began frequently attending protests at circuses, SeaWorld, and more. Any opportunity to educate people about animal rights, Butler was there.
While she would usually find herself surrounded by mostly adults at each protest, Butler didn’t mind. Butler looked to the activists she was growing up around, and was inspired by the way they used their voices, she said.
Labor rights activist Cesar Chavez—and Butler’s great uncle—has also been a main source of inspiration for Butler.
“I’ve always really looked up to how fearless that he was, and how he knew what he was doing was right, and he continued with it no matter what,” she said.
In 2017, when the Ringling Bros. Circus—a circus Butler frequently protested—officially closed down, Butler realized the true impact of her efforts.
“That really made me realize that when we’re protesting, it is making a difference, and people are listening,” said Butler. “One person can make a difference.”
At 10 years old, she became one of the youngest people to give a Tedx Talk. At 11, she created the nonprofit, Genesis for Animals, which donates to animal sanctuaries (Butler hopes to one day have her own). She has even worked with an organization called Social Compassion in Legislation, and has campaigned for the Cosmetic Cruelty Free Act, as well as to get vegan meals in nursing homes, prisons and hospitals, both of which passed into legislation.
A Long Beach local, Butler can often be found doing beach cleanups, or participating in other events such as town halls and youth-centered events.
While animal rights are at the core of her work, Butler also focuses on advocacy and education around the climate crisis—while fossil fuels are often linked to climate change, animal agriculture often gets left out of the discussion, she said.
“I think that it’s super important to be aware . . . with the climate crisis, that this is going to impact us all, no matter where we’re at,” Butler said.
To Butler, a step toward a more sustainable future means making conscious choices—whether it’s eating a plant-based meal or being aware of what you’re purchasing, every decision is an opportunity to question, “How is this going to impact not only my future, but the future generations on this planet?” Butler said.
In 2020, Butler decided she wanted to empower more youth to join the effort, and during quarantine, she created the online community, Youth Climate Save.
From discussing topics like fast fashion and protecting the ocean, to participating in beach cleanups, tree plantings, and tabling at concerts to spread awareness, the organizing space is an avenue to getting involved alongside like-minded youth, Butler said.
“When I was first an activist, sometimes I would think, ‘Oh, I’m the only kid who’s doing this work,’ and I didn’t really have anyone else to talk to,” said Butler.
With Youth Climate Save, young activists are able to find a community of support.
You don’t have to be a vegan to join, but you do have to be open to veganism, as animal agriculture is a main focus, Butler said.
“This is something that I wish I had when I first became a climate activist,” Butler said. “I realized this is something that needs to be brought up and to have more youth be able to know, ‘Your voice matters, and your voice is important,’ and to really empower youth to speak up.”
Since then, the program has expanded to nearly 80 chapters in 22 countries; recently, Action for Nature, an international nonprofit based in San Francisco, even recently recognized Butler for the creation of the program by awarding her a Young Eco-Hero Award honorable mention.
“Just knowing all the different people from around the world who are fighting for the same topic as I am, it’s just so amazing to see and so important to see that there are youth out there who are using their voices and raising awareness,” Butler said.
When Butler isn’t working toward raising awareness, or on her schoolwork for Long Beach City College (Butler is homeschooled so is simultaneously able to complete her high school requirements while working toward an associate’s), she loves going to Disneyland, connecting to nature, and being with her family—her four siblings, and especially the littlest, Butler’s two-year-old sister, give her activism purpose, she said.
“I hope that she doesn’t have to think about the climate as much as I do … I hope that she can just be a kid and not have to worry about it,” Butler said. “That really makes my activism worthwhile.”
Connect with Youth Climate Save on Instagram here.