Taking Your Skills As A Youth Activist To Build An Intergenerational Movement for Change
Excerpt from Youth to Power: Your Voice and How To Use It. Copyright © 2020 by Jamie Margolin.
You are a part of a global family of changemakers that has been slowly but surely bending the moral arc of the universe toward justice for centuries. Among all the hard work and nitty-gritty of our individual lives, it can become easy to forget that we are each a puzzle piece in a movement that has existed long before us. We are a part of something bigger than ourselves. We are a part of a community; we are no longer one of the many gears turning in society’s machine. Being an activist and daring to challenge what the world lays in front of you as "the only way it will ever be" has broken you free. It’s time to use your skills as a young organizer and build an intergenerational movement for change -- because that is the only way we will win.
"We live in a world where justice is never simply handed over. It has to be demanded, and then demanded over and over again."
We live in a world where justice is never simply handed over. It has to be demanded, and then demanded over and over again. For every great social movement in history, it has taken the unique wisdom and strength of every generation united to move the needle toward change.
Youth to Power is not about elevating the younger generations over the older ones, because the truth is, we are all standing on the shoulders of the changemakers who came before us. The current environmental movement is standing on the shoulders of indigenous activists who have been fighting to protect the earth and humanity's relationship to it from colonial greed and destruction for centuries, the current LGBTQ+ liberation movement is standing on the shoulders of queer activists who rioted at Stonewall in the late 1960s, and on and on. We get nowhere by alienating ourselves from our elders, but we also have to make sure those who deny our value are corrected. We must pull up a seat to the table for young voices, because usually no one will pull up a seat for us.
"We get nowhere by alienating ourselves from our elders, but we also have to make sure those who deny our value are corrected."
Youth movements don't get anywhere by alienating and making enemies out of our elders, in the same way that movements with little to no youth voice involved or considered are never successful in truly serving justice for everyone. You are existing right now in a crucial moment in history. The decisions you make, the action you take as a young person in the twenty-first century with a voice and strong convictions will shape the world for thousands of years to come. The action you take now will decide the future of our planet and everything on it. Maybe we the youth do not have much of the institutional, legislative, media, legal, or monetary power in this world -- but we have the power to influence and speak the truth to each and every one of these systems of power.
You as a young person in today’s world have something important to say, something special to offer society. Our power, the power of young people, is the power to speak the pure, undiluted truth to those in high places. Young people may not control our world's political systems, but we have a massive influence on our world's culture, and cultural shifts cause political shifts. Before a law can change, the culture surrounding the society that creates those laws needs to change. Youth have and always will steer our society's culture toward progress. That is our power. That is our job. That is our gift.
"Young people may not control our world's political systems, but we have a massive influence on our world's culture, and cultural shifts cause political shifts."
This is the end of this book but only the very beginning of your journey. Youth to Power is not just a catchy title or hashtag. It's a way of existing in the world as a young person, being both a force of resistance against the oppressive forms of power in the world and a force of change bringing power to the values, systems, and people that need it. It's time to live out youth to power in all its forms. Be the one who stands up and speaks truth to power, even when it is difficult and unpopular. Be the one who draws the line and says, No more. No more destruction of our environment and planet, no more violence in our communities, no more discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, or ability. Be the one who dares to imagine and create better possibilities, solutions, and ways of living in place of those old systems that have only harmed us. Be the one who laughs in the face of those who say, But it's ALWAYS been this way, and create something that disrupts the status quo in the best way possible. Because why not you? It isn't rare for many people to have the same yearning to be free and the same concerns and dreams of a better world that you have, but they are waiting for someone to be the first person to stand up and speak for it. Years can go by where no one says anything or those who do don't say enough -- so you just have to stand up and decide, enough already, and be the one to break the silence. Then those who have felt that way all along will follow.
"...you just have to stand up and decide, enough already, and be the one to break the silence. Then those who have felt that way all along will follow."
This journey as a young changemaker is going to be long, crazy, confusing, wonderful, empowering, disappointing, thrilling, exhausting, energizing, beautiful, and so worth it. There is absolutely no feeling in the world better than knowing you are fighting for what is right and actually doing something to make a dent in the problems of this world and shifting our culture toward something better and brighter. So get out there, don't be too hard on yourself, and accept the fact that you'll never fully know what you're doing. You just have to keep chugging along anyway and trying the best you can. I know that's a weird way to end a book that is supposed to be The Ultimate Guide to Being a Young Activist, but the truth is, no changemaker ever, no youth activist ever, has fully known what they were doing. They just learned the best they could, did the best they could with the best intentions, and made the most change they could with what tools they had available to them. So what are you waiting for? The world is yours. Go make some productive noise, make some changes, and learn by jumping in headfirst and doing the work that needs to be done.
That's what I’m doing. That's what you have to do. That's all we can do. It's time to be Youth to Power, by speaking Truth to Power.