By: Vale Colunga, 2018-2019 Girl Up Teen Advisor
Let’s be real, it is difficult to be an activist; if bringing political and social change was easy many more people would be fighting against discrimination and human rights violations. But facing your teenage years AND being an activist, well THAT is a whole other story.
I never considered myself as an activist, mainly because the image that formed into my mind when thinking about activism was of women holding their hands and taking the streets with posters. Then, I joined Girl Up and all of the sudden people started calling me a teen activist. I was really hesitant because I still didn’t identify myself with that term; I gave a lot of respect to activists and couldn’t imagine myself being considered someone as important as Emma Gonzalez, Frida Kahlo, or Malala Yousafzai. You feel me? These women are idols, so how could I be considered something even similar to them?
Seeing many friends write teen activist on their Instagram biography was something that I found really weird… Is there an invisible certificate that graduates you as an official teen activist? In what moment do you know you have become part of the activism club? Where do I get one of those vintage activist denim jackets full of cool pins? My mind got really caught up with this questions, so for a long time I just decided to ignore the fact that I could ever be an activist. Then my mom started calling me that way and I didn’t know if I had to correct her or not; maybe I am an activist after all.
Being an activist is much more than marching in the streets, it is standing up for those whose voice isn’t heard, starting difficult conversations, disagreeing with unethical practices, donating time and money, and lobbing. But doing all of the above is more difficult when people don’t take you seriously because of your age. It is not easy hearing older people complain about a whole generation, and then trying to defend it and immediately getting accused of not knowing anything. It is hard trying to explain new ideas and their relevance to those who are too comfortable with their privilege. It can be distressing giving hundreds of hours to a cause and yet being told that your actions are not relevant. It is poignant meeting with representatives and realizing that they just want you for the photo and not for your proposals.
Your age doesn’t defines you. You learn not from the years, but from the experience. Realizing that I had lived all of those difficulties made me conclude that I was indeed a teen activist. So I started searching for more people my age who were bringing change to their community and was surprised of finding them somewhere unexpected: school. If we think it thoroughly, classrooms are the first place where lobbing, fundraising, and even protesting happen. I ask you to think about your school and try to identify in your mind who are the animal rights activists, who asked the cafeteria to add vegetarian and vegan options?; the climate change activists, who asked the teacher to have different trashcans for organic and inorganic material?; the disability rights activists, who asked for accessible parking spaces in the parking lot?; or the feminists, who asked about the representation of female characters in literature class? We can all be activists in our own way for the issues that matter to us.
Who are you? What issue are you passionate about? What topic(s) do you always discuss with friends? Maybe you have been an activist all along without knowing. But let me remind you that activism is not selling cookies for homeless people once in your school, activism is a lifestyle where you represent the movement constantly through your ideas and actions. It is following the issues in the news and on social media, but also getting involved in local events. The beauty of Teen Activism is that it makes youth’s ideas and issues heard, bringing a fresh reminder that political and social change translates differently through generations.
Girl Up gave a platform for the voice of thousands of girls and mine. I am forever grateful with the organization because it gave me a support system of girls who understood the struggles of belonging to the feminist movement at such a young age and it always encouraged me to believe in myself no matter what. Find or create your movement and believe in your journey, no matter how old you are. I encourage you to survive and embrace your activism as much as your teen years, these will be experiences that will mark you forever and make you grow as a person.
Valeria is the founding Club President of Girl Up Monterrey in Mexico.