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Am I an Activist? A Roundtable Discussion
YCteen staff
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The writers in Youth Communication’s 2017 summer workshop talked, wrote, and went on field trips connected to activism. At the set of a political news show called Democracy Now! we met actor and activist James Cromwell, who was getting ready to serve a week in jail for nonviolent protest at a power plant in upstate New York.


Atl Castro wrote about Trump’s hasty order to ban transgender people from serving in the military (blocked by the courts, so far) and attended a protest against the proposed-by-tweet ban. We discussed the protest at Standing Rock, North Dakota, and the larger issue of how the U.S. government murdered and stole the land of Native Americans. We talked a lot about immigrants and their right to be considered full Americans and about the removal of Confederate monuments.

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We realized during the summer that even those of us who had been to protests or organized political events weren’t sure if we could call ourselves activists. Here are excerpts from that conversation.


Q: Why should people protest?


Yori: We have a president who joked about sexual assault and a vice president who’s against gay people.

Emily: The election brought real problems to the surface and motivated people to advocate for change.

Atl: I agree it’s the current political climate. The women’s marches happened all over the world. You can’t take freedoms for granted.

Andrew: Activists were already passionate about things like the pay gap for women and LGBTQ issues, but now more activists are piggybacking on them.

Gabby: Racism has been going on for years. You have to work for the future, not just respond to fear of a president.

Q: What defines an activist?


Atl: You’re an activist if you care about a problem and protest or otherwise try to solve the problem.

Yori: You join a community and meet other activists and have discussions. You write about it. You join the clubs that create events like a march or a run or a drive. Not everyone can make a huge change, but you try to do your best in your community.

Atl: An activist organizes events and doesn’t just talk or post about it. An activist writes about an issue or speaks in public or organizes a protest.


Andrew: First educate yourself on the issue, then try to raise awareness.

Demetria: Smaller actions count. Women can break down gender norms and gender standards by defying rules for how girls “should dress.”

Emily: An activist still supports their issue regardless of how popular it is. Good activists are educated in the area of change they want to make and they’re putting themselves forward.

Q: What are some ways you work for change?

Yori: A bill was being passed that would hurt the environment and I wrote my senator to ask him not to support it.


Demetria: I wrote a letter to support getting solar panels at school.

Gabby: An organization called Global Citizen gives you choices of an issue and they’ll send you emails about things happening on that issue. I write letters and sign petitions that they tell me about.

Yori: I go to change.org and do the actions they suggest.

Atl: I care about climate change and the environment, and I pass along articles on that.

Demetria: I’m working on a video with my friend Nathaniel asking questions like, “Can black people be racist?” and exploring cultural appropriation.

Winnie: I wrote about my school’s LGBTQ+ gala for the school newspaper.

Q: What groups have you worked with?

Demetria: Black Lives Matter, Gay-Straight Alliance.

Gabby: Smart Girls. We discuss topics important to women, go to protests, and go on cancer walks.

Q: Are you an activist?

Emily: I’ve been to protests and called my members of Congress, but others are more passionate than me. I’ve participated in activism, but I’m not on the forefront.

Demetria: I feel like I’m an activist. Young people get so much backlash, but I use that. Just because I’m young doesn’t mean I can’t do activism. I use social media, but I do more than that.

Gabby: I’m not sure I’m an activist. I went to a protest but I didn’t have a sign or yell. It was a student walk-out right after the election.


Winnie: I haven’t done anything like James Cromwell [who went to jail for protesting]. I was going to make a women’s zine, but I didn’t. I’m a good supporter though.

Yori: I don’t consider myself an activist. I did the student walk-out the day of the election. I’m in the Lorax Club; I went to a beach clean-up and helped take out weeds from Central Park. But I don’t think I’m doing enough. I’m not creating enough change.

Emily: The fact that we don’t know if we’re activists or not shows me that young people don’t know the change they can make. I feel like I’m still in the stage where I’m learning and assessing different perspectives.

Atl: I personally consider myself an activist. A lot of people don’t take young people seriously, and I feel like activism is a way young people can have a voice and influence people. I’ve been to a lot of protests, including two at Trump Tower plus one of the women’s marches. In my school newspaper, I write about politics, which gets people informed.

My definition of activism is you care about a topic and you try to make change. You can always do more. James Cromwell chained himself to that power plant, and I would never do that.

Andrew: I think I’m working toward becoming an activist. Lots of LGBTQ people are in the closet, and I’m not personally out to everyone, so I’m not comfortable doing certain things. Whenever I see cyberbullying I step in and say, “It’s not right to bully people because of their sexuality, race, or gender.” I do my part when I’m anonymous.


Gabby: I guess I’m still in the education phase. I do share stuff on social media that I think people should be informed about. But I don’t want to go to jail.

Andrew: You hold yourself back from going to protests because older people think young people don’t know what they’re doing. When I get older, I’ll try to do more activism.

Gabby: Young people have a lot to say, and we know more about the world than adults think.

(NYC-2018-01-10)