Youth Activism in the USA: One Year Later
March 2020 marked one year since a group of young activists from Norfolk, joined by staff from MAP and Youth Access, travelled across the Atlantic to meet with campaigners and research youth activism in the USA. Here’s what we learned:
After touching down in NYC we attended a lecture on migration, refugees & the politics of sanctuary given by racial justice and civil rights activist Linda Sarsour.
Unity is not Uniformity
Linda highlighted the importance of groups fighting against oppression working together.
We’re not one thing, and you can’t work in isolation. People are infinitely varied and they can all come together around a movement.
Love is radical & powerful
Pursuing activism with love in mind implies that activism is not just fighting against something else, it is something that is a persistent and immovable and an established part of being alive.
Young Activist Hebh Jamal taught us:
Sphere of Impact & Sphere of Influence
The issue is always going to be bigger than the influence we have: it’s about figuring out what we can do with the influence we have.
The activist is always asking a question
Demand justice be served. Ask vital questions, even if you’re not getting answers that you want.
Activism out of necessity rather than choice
Hebh’s campaigning was born out of a need for representation of Palestinian students and other marginalized people in her school. She was involved because she had to be: ‘I’m not “getting involved”, I am involved. How can I not be?’
Reclaim the word ‘failure’
Don’t be discouraged when you encounter get setbacks. You’re not doing it because you think you’re going to get great results and be happy. You’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do.
We ate pizza and discussed activism with Ramon Contreras and Amelia Eberline
If you want something heard, it has to be seen
It needs to be loud, it needs to be bold, and it needs to be annoying to the point that people are paying attention.
Value everyone’s time
Ramon values time spent meeting people. He believes in valuing people equally: treating the cleaner the same as the CEO.
We travelled to New Haven, where we met with members of a local Youth Advisory Board and heard from residents of the city and students at Yale University.
We learned to always ask the following questions:
What do I know?
What is my role?
What can I learn?
City Wide Youth Coalition taught us:
Be conscious of the space you are taking up
Who is affected by an issue? Who is best placed to do this work?
A safe space can be transformative
The effects of a network – if its foundations are grounded in love, respect & a genuine fight for justice – spill outwards in a way that cannot be quantified.
We took part in a workshop with Project Reach:
We were asked to challenge what we thought we knew about ourselves and how we perceived the world around us. We might unwillingly have systems in place that are unjust, and deep rooted.
Open a discourse within yourself
How can we make sure that we are being as inclusive as possible? What are your internal prejudices and can you be open about them and try to dismantle them?
In a workshop with the Youth Activists Youth Allies (YAYA) Network we learned:
Accessibility is key
Who can access activist spaces?
We are growing & evolving
Acknowledge what you don’t yet know.
The amazing youth-led organization United We Dream taught us the power of:
Leading through experience
They offer a platform and protection to the immigrant community – those directly affected by the issues they campaign on.
Talking to Wendy, founder of the YouActProject, was the best possible end to our trip.
Wendy facilitates connection-making and helps turn theory into action.