By Jackie Logsted, Age 17
This is How to be an Activist, a reoccurring blog series published by Day of the Girl. To learn more about How to be an Activist, please click here.
When you’re in high school, you are constantly told what you cannot do: You can’t go out after 10. No, you can’t take the car. You can’t go out with that boy. You can’t wear that shirt at school. Your generation doesn’t care about anything real. You don’t understand what it means to love someone yet. You wouldn’t get it, you’re too young.
I know all of this because I’m seventeen. With all the voices in our ears, it can feel limiting to be our age; we have less accessibility to resources, and people tend to take us less seriously. These things may look like mile high hurdles to jump through before you can try to create something meaningful.
Noel Paul Stookey recently told me that the key to meaningful activism is to “grow where you’re planted.” It can feel incredibly daunting to be an activist when you’re in high school, but by ignoring the things that you can’t do yet and taking advantage of the things you can do, we can make meaningful differences in the world, before we can legally vote
Know this: Activism is not all rallies and donations.
So, you either can’t drive yourself to a local rally or you have no local rallies to get to. And you have no money to make donations to causes you care about, because you’re a teenager making less than a hundred bucks a week at Pizza Hut. But what else can you do if you can’t do these two things???? Well, a lot:
1) First off, Start Making Some Calls.
One of the easiest and most meaningful ways to use your voice to support a cause is to call your congress members to tell them how you feel about an issue. With the contentious political climate in America at the moment, chances are a cause you care about is being discussed in Washington. Find the representatives of your state here, the senators of your state here, and give them a call! This is a tactic currently being used for those who want to voice their opinions on the possible repeal of ACA and implementation of TrumpCare, but you can use these lines for any issue. Your congress members are supposed to be our voice in Washington, so make sure they know where you stand. This article from Refinery29 gives a good and easy background of what to say when calling your representatives or senators, but if you’d prefer using pre-written scripts for specific issues, go to 5calls.org.
2) Start Talking to People.
The divide in America is more apparent now than it has ever been in our lifetime. The best way to heal a divide is to get people talking with one another. Individuals on both sides of party lines have developed ideas of who is on the other side of the political spectrum, painting ignorant pictures and cracking our unity as a country. Create an open dialogue with the people around you. When issues are on your mind, bring up a conversation with your friends. Make an effort to talk to someone who thinks differently than you do. Tie in-class discussions into real world issues. Engage, engage, engage. Rational, peaceful discussion makes us understand one another better, learn, and regain some of our unity.
3) Educate yourself.
I don’t know everything. You don’t know everything. Barack Obama doesn’t know everything. Activism, at any age, is a constant learning process. Keep yourself engaged with the news; know what’s going on in the world. Moreover, learn the history of the issues you want to fight for. Learn the heroes, the setbacks faced, the wars won, and what it means and has meant to fight with this cause. The more educated you are on any topic, the more willing people will be to listen to you; plenty of people don’t take high school students seriously - give them a reason to change their minds. Know your cause, but at the same time, don’t let your lack of immense depth of knowledge on said cause hold you back from lending your voice. Like I said, activism is a learning process. You are probably not going to learn everything overnight. Study the issues you care about, and go about solving them.
There is no one way to educate yourself on political issues. There are so many issues and so much information out there that the best way to learn is to jump right in. Read about current events on different news websites (MSNBC, FOX, ABC, NBC, etc) so you learn all sides of the conversation.
There are websites that provide information on different causes and charities such as this one, as well as websites that both give you the tools to take action and background information, such as 5calls.org. Make an email subscription to MoveOn.org so that information is coming right to you on a weekly basis, and look to them for upcoming events, such as local healthcare canvassing in July, with their program Resistance Summer. Open your ears, open your mind, and make an effort to learn. You’ll be surprised how much starts to come your way.
4) Be an ally.
Not all causes that you care about have to directly apply to you. For example, I am a strong supporter of Black Lives Matter. I am also a white woman. This does not mean I cannot or should not get involved, but it does, however, mean that, 1. I am affected differently by the cause than a black individual, so therefore, 2. I need to know my place, and respect it.
There is always room for allies in a cause, so don’t back away from something you care about just because you think there’s no place for you. Take to tip #3 and educate yourself about the cause. Find out your place, what you can best do to help the cause as a teenager with limited resources, and go do it.
Lucy Danger wrote a great blog post for How to be an Activist specifically discussing white allyship which you can read here.
Art won’t let you vote for our next president, but it’ll get you pretty damn close.Expressing your feelings and opinions on different issues through creation opens conversations, makes people think, and usually changes a few minds. The more you can get people to think about the causes you care about, the better. Facilitating this in the form of visual art, music, or another expression that means something to you can be incredibly valuable.
6) Activism is for everybody.
Activism is all about getting people to work together and stand up in support of or in opposition of issues. While high school students may not have the money, transportation, or permission from their parents to take certain actions, they still have their voices. Your voice will go with you wherever you go. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have $1,000 to donate to Planned Parenthood, because by opening your mouth and talking to people about women’s issues, you are producing meaningful work. By educating yourself about the problems people face, you are bettering your ability to do something. By making calls, talking to people, and creating, you are making the world hear you. And by the time you can vote, drive, and spend as much money as you want on your causes, you will have already started to create a better world.