Teen Activism in NYC
Iolanthe Brooks ’15
A lot of people, not just curmudgeonly baby-boomers, seem to think that the real world doesn’t begin until you leave high school. Weirdly enough, even many super capable, intelligent, politically- and socially-aware high school students believe this myth. Needless to say, the belief that high school years play out in a bubble distanced from what happens in the “adult” world just isn’t true. This is especially accurate in New York, the city of Occupy Wall Street, the recent Climate March, and yearly marches like the May Day rally for workers’ rights.
As a young person, you have the power and the responsibility to be part of the larger world. If you’re passionate about important issues, from police brutality to gender rights, you live in the perfect city to help make change. Take advantage of it! Finding the right organizations and rallies can be hard, though. So, for all the empowered activists of BHSEC, here is a beginner’s guide to youth activism in NYC.
First, find out what issues you care about. There’s too much going on today to be part of every movement. Besides, even if there were time to squeeze it all in, you probably wouldn’t want to. Not all issues are equally important to everyone. Thinking about the things you’re already interested in, or the events that stand out to you in the news, is a really good place to start. Once you have an idea about the topics you care about, it’s just a matter of finding a club, organization, or rally.
The easiest place to start is within BHSEC. From STAGE to the LGBTQA club to BHSEC’s political clubs, there are tons of student networks you can join within the school to get involved. While some student clubs don’t hold or go to marches, that doesn’t mean they aren’t doing important activist work. Take a cue from visionaries who have literally created movements by talking and writing about the things that angered them.
If something more hands-on but still long-term does sound appealing, then researching organizations is your best bet. There are hundreds of amazing activist organizations. Many of them follow a grassroots model, meaning that their mission is change from the bottom up, starting with lots of people getting involved. These organizations often give a little more power to volunteers. Almost all of them look for inspired youth as volunteers or interns.
Some great starting points include Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (both advocate for human rights at home and abroad), the Drug Policy Alliance (for better drug policies), Communities United for Police Reform (anti-police brutality and broken windows policing), NYCLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights (both defend civil and constitutional rights), and Planned Parenthood. There are so, so many more than this handful. A little research will definitely connect you to empowering and interesting communities.
Finally, the oldest and most popular form of activism is protest. In New York City, we are blessed with many, many marches. Some are yearly, like the May Day rally in Union Square, while others have been in response to events, like Eric Gardner’s death over the summer, or the U.N. Climate Summit this past September.
The best way to hear about marches and rallies is to get on some mailing lists! If you’re applying to college, you know well that mailing lists are often a hassle. If, however, an organization you researched (even if you choose not to work with it) sends out the occasional update about events, then it may be worth it to sign up for their mailing list.
Another cool way to hear about major rallies without aligning yourself with any organization is to stay updated with the Rude Mechanical Orchestra (an amazing marching band, decked out it green, that plays at most major protests). If they’re playing a gig (i.e. going to a rally), maybe you should check it out.
Get your best chants ready, your punniest posters drawn up, and go participate in the “real” world!