Do Youth Care About Activism?
The Answer? That’s the wrong question to be asking.
Communications Cohort 2022-23 Youth Member
“Why?” You may wonder? Well, we have to start with why this question was asked. On January 16th, 2023, Youth RiseTexas (aka us) was invited to the Austin Martin Luther King Celebration, organized by the Austin Area Heritage Council (Don’t worry, I don’t know who they are either). This event inspired Youth RiseTexas to think about the Youth’s relationship with a well-known advocate, ending with the question: How do Youth resonate with Martin Luther King Jr.?
And coming from myself, (the Youth), they don’t. In the day-to-day life of today’s Youth, MLK is not a dude we think about or have strong opinions of. He’s a guy credited with doing revolutionary things that caused a lot of people to get rights, but that is the extent of the “youth’s” general opinion of him. And the national holiday is nothing more than a much-deserved day of rest for extremely busy and stressed teen students. Today’s Youth has lost interest in glorifying political figures, especially those with known controversies. (Look it up, man. Even MLK had some skeletons in his closet, not even mentioning his lack of intersectionality in politics).
Does that answer sound harsh? To some, maybe, but don’t get caught up in the shock and horror of Gen Z’s disinterest in one guy. This answer opens the door for a bigger conversation worthy of your headspace. Why don’t Youth show up more in activist spaces.
3 ANSWERS TO WHY YOUTH DON’T SHOW UP MORE IN ACTIVISM
1. Activist events aren’t accessible to Youth and their families.
If your event is taking place during school hours, Youth can’t go. If your event takes place at a time or day that working adults can’t go (9-5), Youth can’t go because a lot of Youth rely on a working adult for transportation. If your event doesn’t have activities for younger kids, Youth and parents who can’t get a babysitter can’t go. And let’s not forget Youth who have a physical disability, whose first language isn’t English, or whose family is undocumented and may not feel comfortable going to a space with a police presence.
For example, I have been to only one march my entire life, and that experience has made me quite wary of any demonstrations. Marches, I found, are incredibly inaccessible! I went with my mom, who was still healing from ankle surgery, and I was a 17-year-old with autism and a very low tolerance for extreme temperatures, topped with sensory issues regarding my feet.
What could go wrong?
Everything went wrong. In the short version, we performed the walk of shame back to the car in the heat and drove to the meeting place where the march was ending.
Our experience should tell you that it’s not hard for marches and protests to become inaccessible, not even considering those with disabilities, recovering from injuries, or pregnant people; inaccessibility is the fact that most people don’t know a lot of terms used in social justice spaces. Words like healing justice or equity would have to be explained, but they aren’t, which makes these spaces feel classist and unwelcoming.
2. OUR SOCIETY DOESN’T TREAT YOUTH LIKE PEOPLE BUT EXPECTS THEM TO STAND UP FOR THEMSELVES.
The way that ageism shows up is an issue in youth activism and Youth pursuing leadership. There is a giant misunderstanding that Youth should be as confident as adults. Gen Z is highly concerned about social issues, and maybe because of that, adults seem to think that Gen Z must be overly vocal in our communities, but that ignores the fact that Youth standing up for themselves in school or even in the home, is taken as being rebellious or “difficult.” Also, confidence comes from experience, which only some Youth have because we have yet to live that long.
Youth don’t become leaders because you give us responsibility and hope we can figure out how to handle it. Youth need guidance, reassurance, and mentorship to flourish and feel safe enough to stand up for ourselves/others. Either these spaces coddle Youth or dump endless tasks on them to handle.
So many youths have jobs, we don’t need a new, unpaid one.
3. Marginalized Youth are tired of hearing about issues they live
Marginalized Youth often cannot find value in conversations about activism facilitated by older, more privileged adults because these conversations focus on pointing out the issues without offering solutions or hope. This can dishearten young people already dealing with existential doom, which negatively affects their mental health. They do not need to be reminded of how difficult life is.
So… that’s a lot of information! How do organizations address these issues? How do they create inclusive and fostering spaces for youth? How do they increase youth engagement in activism?
Find out in Part 2 – Coming Soon!