In my home state of Ohio, a recently introduced bill (HB 351) would ban insurance companies from covering abortion care, as well as certain types of birth control and IUDs. When I shared this, a friend of mine asked me about how to not get discouraged by politics. "How can students challenge these policies?"
It took me a bit, but I've come to the conclusion that the answer is very simple:
Embrace your age.
When I joined the DoSomething.org Youth Advisory Council in 2010, I was 14. I remember our very first conference call and everybody introducing themselves. I was very nervous and so intimidated by everything these people had accomplished. Connecting with 34 other young leaders creating change in their communities was one of the most profound moments in my life and it has really helped shaped me as an activist, as well as a person.
On that first call, one piece of advice really stuck with me more than anything. Embrace your age. People will always want to define who you are because of how young you are, but their opinions don't matter as long as you choose to define yourself.
It's very easy to get swept up in how bad things can be, especially when policies such as HB 351 are being presented. But the worst thing that we, as young people, can do is to accept things the way they are because of our age. Young people have been on the forefront of every major social movement in history. We are passionate, motivated and we refuse to accept the world the way it is. Our voices have a lot more power than we give them credit for. If there is one thing I've learned it's that there is nothing that youth can't accomplish, especially when we stand together.
I know it's hard to not find yourself discouraged by politics and the current system. But we cannot allow the people who pass these laws to create the world we will live in. We have to build that world ourselves. And that means standing together and creating change. Embracing your age is a huge part of that. We shouldn't have to pretend that we're "old enough" because sometimes the problem is that the people creating these policies aren't young enough.
Being young isn't a lack of experience, it's a new perspective. It's our job to change the conversation surrounding young activists. It's not "You're too young to do anything." It's "I am changing the world because I'm young and I don't want to leave my future in the hands of people who may not have my best interest at heart."
So go change the world. Find something you're passionate about. And, most importantly, know that every small act makes a difference. You don't have to start organization or run for office to change the world.
Get involved locally. Attend a city council meeting and talk to your council members. Start a petition. Websites like change.org allow you to voice your concerns with local, state and national issues while petitioning for change. Find and research your state and congressional representatives. Who are they? What do they stand for? What bills have they voted for/against? Do these policies best represent me and my community.
One of the most important pieces of advice I can give to someone who is looking to get involved in politics and social activism is to stay educated and continue to educate the people around you. Change begins with education. And nothing can really happen unless you know the ins and outs of the issues you're advocating for. Read books on the topic, follow current events and connect with people who are passionate about the same issues. Social media is a great way to do this. I have met so many amazing young leaders through sites like Facebook and Twitter. Hashtags may not lead to measurable change, but using one to dig deeper into a topic is a great way to connect with people or ideas you might not have been familiar with previously.
As you learn more, don't be afraid to be wrong or change your opinions. Life is about growing and changing as a person and it's something you'll find happens a lot -- no matter what you decide to do. There is nothing wrong with saying "I used to feel this way, but after some research and reflection, I have come to a different conclusion."
No matter how involved you're looking to get in politics or social activism, or at the intersection of politics and social activism, there are going to be road bumps. People will make you doubt yourself because of where you're from, who you are and what you look like. There will be people who say you are wrong simply because of your age. But those people do not define you. You set your own limitations. The most important thing to remember is that your age is not a liability. It's a superpower.
And, the next time someone says "You're rather young, aren't you?" Say, "Yes, I am."