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Young people are speaking up for change. But we need more voices

Delaware-based student leader Nathan Cho offers a look at his own journey in activism, and tips on how to get started.

"The key to being an activist is simply to start," writes Nathan Cho. Photo by Sushil Nash on Unsplash

This guest post is a part of Youth Building the Future Month of Technical.ly's editorial calendar. This month’s theme is underwritten by Verizon 5G. This story was independently reported and not reviewed by Verizon.

This is a guest post by Nathan Cho, a Delaware-based high school junior and student leader focused on efforts to achieve educational equity.
As social issues become more spotlighted and accessible, I have seen young people speak up for the causes they believe in, and mobilize to spark change.

From international activists like Greta Thunberg to local voices like Tariah Hyland, young people aren’t staying silent. Along with increased youth advocacy has come a lot of conversation about young people’s place within these issues, and whether they truly should be included in these efforts.

As we usher in new generations, it is crucial to understand that the amplification of youth voices is essential to create meaningful progress. Despite this importance, many young people have no idea where to start with their activism.

As a student activist, I experienced these struggles first-hand. There were so many issues that I wanted to address, but I didn’t know how to start on any of them. There was so much to be done, but I had no idea how to get started, or what to do.

I eventually found my niche within educational equity and activism relating to my identity as a gay Asian. Activism provided a platform to celebrate my identity while allowing me to access the power to fight for a world I want to live in. Having found myself through activism, I really want to emphasize the importance of activism to young people, while showing them that getting into activism is as simple as writing an email, asking an official or just talking about something.

Activism, at its core, is just showing up. It’s all about simply being there, taking up space and saying something. This, I believe, lends itself so well to teenagers and young people. We are in this interesting phase of life where we are coming into our fully realized self with our own opinions, beliefs and motivations, while also having a unique fluidity in our lives. This operates well within activism as a living, breathing concept. It is always changing and molding to the progress and changing ideals of newer generations, while requiring an adaptability that teens encapsulate. Also, young voices are some of the most excluded from many conversations. So many of these discussions on progress and issues revolve around older people who are dictating a future many of them won’t live to experience.

Activism provided a platform to celebrate my identity while allowing me to access the power to fight for a world I want to live in.

As young people, we hold a perspective that many dismiss and ignore, yet our voices are more important than ever. We need to carve out our space, and it’s going to take a lot of us to do so. This is why activism and mobilizing youth is so important. It is all about getting young people there, at the table, with a voice and the ability to cause change. Strength is in numbers, and we all need to show up in order to be heard.

The key to being an activist is simply to start. So many of us go through life griping about issues big and small, but very few of us decide to make a change. I believe that many of us hold activism and the idea of being an activist on this pedestal, where it has to involve work on sweeping issues, like dismantling structural racism or bringing down the patriarchy within our community. But activism operates in so many other spheres. It doesn’t have to be this great action that changes the world in one fell swoop. It could be something as simple as getting your school to change class names from “college prep” to a name more indicative of its academic level to better help families unfamiliar with the education system better understand it. Or, it could involve talking to officials about the issues about which you are most passionate.

Activism holds itself as a unique field because virtually anyone can get into it and experience success. It isn’t about who you are; it is about what you are saying and what you are doing. It is becoming abundantly clear within today’s world that the voice of the youth is essential to progress in our society, so involving youth voices within activism is indispensable. The next time you find yourself grumbling about something, whether it be your too-long walk to the bus or the misogyny in your community, take note. Therein lies the spark to change the world.

Here are some actionable issues and steps to help you get started:

Actionable issues

  • Changing the Dewey Decimal System to be more inclusive
  • Advocating for student positions in your school
  • Improving food access through community garden/fridges

Actionable steps

  • Email your elected officials about issues on which you are passionate
  • Talk to your friends, and brainstorm some steps you can take together
  • Create a club at your school centered around that issue
  • Attend public meetings like school board meetings or community forums and speak
Series: Youth Building the Future Month 2021

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