How to Be a Teen Activist (at any age!)
by Wake, Rise, Resist author Kerri Kennedy, firstname.lastname@example.org, @wakeriseresist
“You and your peers are the innovators, the creative thinkers, and the problem-solvers,” my coauthor, Joanna Spathis, and I wrote to young people this fall in our book Wake, Rise, Resist: The Progressive Teen’s Guide to Fighting Tyrants and A*holes. We had no idea how right we were in predicting that the youth of this country were the ones who could lead us out of this political nightmare. (Here’s looking at you, Parkland teens crying out #neveragain, DACA Dreamers raising your voices, Black Lives Matters teens rallying for justice, young climate change activists taking a stand.)
Little did we know when we wrote Action #125 You Lead; We’ll Follow how well the youth of this country would be at pushing us forward to where we need to be. Joanna and I simply believed that the country needed fresh voices, fresh ideas, and fresh energy and so we wrote our book for the audience we knew could bring the fresh—our kids. Our book includes 128 practical, concrete actions to create a better, more just world, and—girl—right now it feels like young people are hard at work checking off every single one of those actions.
Thank goodness for these young people and their idealism and dreams and passion and energy! They have seen where our country needs to head, and it’s time for every. single. one. of. us. to be inspired and rise up with them. Want to understand how you or your young person can join in the fight? Read on for a step-by-step guide on how to wake, rise, and resist
1.We ALL should be resisting. In the book, we work to inspire young people to understand how valuable their voices are. Well, adults, I’m going to say the same thing to you: “Everyone, regardless of their age or where they live, has something valuable to contribute.” So, if you think are too old (or too young!) to join in the fight for our democracy, think again. All of us—and I do mean all of us—have something valuable to offer the movement. Think I’m wrong? I’m not. …
2. You have much to offer. There’s a reason that the very first action of our book is “What do you bring to the table?” Not many of us are good at seeing our own gifts, but we all bring talents and skills and experience to the movement, even the quieter and less confrontational among us. Find your gifts! Take a few minutes to list out what you’re good at (maybe you’re really good at listening, are excellent at art and design, or are a fantastic baker) and to think about what you like to do (perhaps you’re the queen of social media, love working with numbers, or are spectacular at motivating others). What don’t you enjoy? (You may hate writing, talking to strangers, being around large groups of people, or working on computers.) For your last task, go a little deeper: what excites you about your potential activism? (You may love the thought of working on a team and meeting new people; you might be thrilled at the thought of spreading a message; or you might be excited to achieve small, quick actions that give you an instant pop of satisfaction.)
3. Find your issue. Now that you’ve figured out your talents, you’re ready to find your interests. Time for a good old-fashioned brain dump. List out all of the issues that you care about—your passions, your worries, your fears, your dreams. Big and small, list it all. (In the book, we call this list your “roadmap of where you want to head” that can later serve as your “reminder to keep you moving in that direction.”) Is the list getting big? No worries! You’re not committing to working on each of these, just getting it all out in on paper and out of taking up space in your brainpan.
4. Specialize yourself. The world is overwhelming right now, amiright? Honestly, it’s a struggle just to turn on the news rather than hide your head in another Netflix binge. Like all of us, you feel pulled in 1,843 directions at every Tweetstorm, every news story, every email blast. But if you let yourself go in 1,843 directions, not only will you be ineffective, but you will shatter into 1,843 pieces. So, it’s important—and I can’t stress this enough—to specialize yourself. Boil your passions down until they have crystallized into one issue or two and dedicate yourself to that issue or two. (Don’t worry, your fellow activists will have your back and will work for all of the other issues that you care about!) Read up on the issue and become a mini-expert: what exactly is the problem, what is being done about it, what is putting it in danger, and who is already fighting the good fight for it. (Be intersectional in your studies: look for other perspectives and work to see how the issue might have an effect across races, genders, and other groups.)
5. Add it all up. Remember the Venn diagram with the circles that overlap in the middle? Time for you to put together your own little Venn diagram of activism. If you’ve been following along at home, you should have a list of your skills and talents and an issue or two that you’d like to focus on. Where do they overlap? Do you love being physically active, and your issue needs boots on the ground out canvassing? Perfect! Are you great at design? Offer your talents to an established group working on your issue. Are you an organization magician? That local group working on your issue would probably love some help straightening up its offices to become more efficient.
6. Let others do the heavy lifting. Friends, do not reinvent the wheel! Here’s something I can promise you: unless your cause is “I’d like to help Dreamers from Zimbabwe who live in southeastern Florida,” you’re gonna find an organization that already has skin in the game on almost any political fight. With a little thing I like to call the World Wide Web, you will be able to find these folks in just a few minutes. Find the group (or five or ten) working on what you care about. With a little luck, you might even find a local organization to direct your energies and meet like-minded new friends! (Caution: spend a little time at the website to be sure that the group is actually legit and continues to be active and that it truly lines up with your worldview on the matter.)
6b. Let others set the agenda. Have you read all of this and thought, “Um, no. I just want someone to tell me what to do.” We hear ya. There are dozens of people out there creating easy ways for you to know what do. (Ah, technology! Thank you for being about more than just YouTube and the Oatmeal!) For just a few examples, Daily Action and Rogan’s List will send you something to do each day. The 65, Americans of Conscience, and Do a Thing all send out weekly (or so) messages.
7. Buy our book! OK, you knew this one was coming, right? But seriously, if you are looking for the how-to guide, the on-ramp for social activism, then this is it, friends! (Truly! Check out our 60 Amazon reviews for proof.) We worked long and hard to come up with 128 ways to help you find your passion, find your voice, find your activism, and find your resilience to keep at it. (Come chat with us, @wakeriseresist, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.)