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ICYMI…Takeaways from Teen Vogue’s Politics and Culture Workshop

What next gen organizers and activists want today's teens to know

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Image via Teen Vogue
Image via Teen Vogue

Exactly one month before Election Day 2020, young change makers gathered on a Saturday zoom call to talk politics and culture with Teen Vogue. With workbooks in hand and questions at the ready, teens across the U.S. and overseas were eager to dive into the second of Teen Vogue’s “Road to Summit” fall workshops, this time featuring a panel of next gen organizers and activists.

What kind of activists?

Think founders like sixteen year-old Thandiwe Abdullah (co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Youth Vanguard), and Marisa Franco (co-founder and director of Mijente, a Latinx and Chicanx organizing hub). Add in leaders like high school senior Naina Agrawal Hardin (national spokesperson for the Sunrise Movement), Tisya Mavuram (digital organizer for Act on Massachusetts) and Delaney Tarr (college junior who helped launch March For Our Lives from her high school in Parkland, Florida). Cap this all-star team with Patrisse Cullors (co-founder and executive director of Black Lives Matter) as featured speaker and moderator.

Inspiring? You have no idea.

Flipping open their workbooks, attendees read energizing words from Teen Vogue Editor-in-Chief Lindsay Peoples Wagner that set the tone. “Activism is a form of access, not a box to be checked or a one-off effort. As the U.S. prepares to show up and vote this November––in what is arguably the most important election of our lifetime––it is time to make our voices heard, now more than ever. Whether you’re a first-time organizer or raising funds for an existing campaign, you can make a difference.”

They were off to the races.

Cullors opened the session by asking each of the panelists thought-provoking questions that read like the syllabus to a favorite college class: How do you define a movement and when did you first hear that term? What does it mean when organizers say start small or stay in your lane? How do we recognize and challenge performative activism? How are you using social media to amplify your platform and what does it take to create a voting plan?

Discussion was lively, poignant and stirring, hitting home for many of the teens in attendance. We asked a few what they took away from the session, and here is what they said:

“I loved the conversation about how movements are started. The emphasis on focusing on the local community as well as pulling on our own personal experiences to work with organisations that truly move us and mean something to us, really stuck with me.”

Kari L, viewing from Birmingham, UK

“An important takeaway I got from the Politics and Culture Workshop was choosing a focus and starting from a local level. That we should think about what cause we want to fight for and look for an established organization and join them. If there isn’t one already, start one! We must work together to change our system. Two specific quotes I loved: ‘Continue to tell the truth wherever you go,’ and ‘Don’t be subtle,’ both from Patrisse Cullors.”

Angelique M, viewing from New Jersey, USA

“All of the panelists [in the workshop] are people that can help you as an activist and as a person who just wants to make the world a little bit better.”

Eloni C, viewing from New York, USA

When the initial panel gave way to breakout sessions, enthusiasm continued to build. Teen Vogue’s clever action prompts and post-workshop tasks set future change makers’ plans in motion, and their reactions poured in:

“There were so many ideas that I want to remember: (1) Don’t go around trying to change other peoples’ minds and views; that is your movement’s job, (2) Sometimes the biggest change starts from the smallest change, and (3) Don’t follow things or support movements because you have to…follow them because you want to.”

Sachi G, viewing from New Jersey, USA

“I took a lot away from the session with Delaney Tarr. She emphasised the importance of collaboration, education and not talking over or for other people. The quote ‘You’re the expert in your own experiences but that does not make them universal’ really resonated with me.”

Kari L, viewing from Birmingham, UK

“In our breakout group Patrisse Cullors spoke about the importance of a call to action and creating a policy platform in moving your cause forward. I also learned about incorporating political action in my activism in addition to increasing awareness of a problem. Patrisse really helped give me direction and was encouraging about my passion to help my community of MENA (Middle Eastern and North African) Jews.”

Eloni C, viewing from New York, USA

“Two quotes that really stuck with me were: ‘We are not separated; you can work on one movement today and still be part of other movements’ by Naina Agrawal Hardin, and ‘It’s not just on the young people, it’s all our responsibility’ by Marisa Franco.”

Julie S, viewing from New Hampshire, USA

The buzz in the zoom was unmistakable as the audience reconvened after the breakout sessions, and the plan on the table was clear…go VOTE. Taking into account that some attendees might be too young to vote, but knowing that regardless of age all were old enough to care, the Teen Vogue panel urged everyone to create a voting plan. How are you going to vote and encourage others to do the same? What will you vote for or against and how will you use your voice? Will you remember the down-ballot races and support candidates in key races? What will your next thirty days look like?

Still humming from Saturday’s vibe, our next thirty days will be filled with issues, action and authenticity. We will raise our hands in support of candidates we trust, in protest against groups we disavow and in shared commitment to use what we learned to make each day a new opportunity for change.

For, as Lindsay Peoples Wagner reminds us: “We know firsthand that young people are a catalyst for positive change. Whether you’re passionate about racial and social justice, health care reform, climate action, or all of the above, together we can have an impact.”

Together, we can have an impact.

And thanks to Teen Vogue, we’re ready.

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