On the first page of the book Dispatches from the Culture Wars: How the Left Lost Teen Spirit, Danny Goldberg writes the following, “A political ideology whose purpose is to help and empower ordinary people is often directed by leaders and strategists to whom the public is an alien beast and to whom young people seem to be, astonishingly, irrelevant.” That book was written in 2003 and describes a current reality where young people are marginalized at best. What follows are multiple examples of how young people are in fact having a powerful impact on our world.
Courtney E. Martin’s brilliant book Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists is a must read for anybody who is despairing about the state of our world, looking for real examples of positive changes that are being made, or is interested in what those under thirty-five are doing to have a positive impact.
A major advantage regarding how Courtney E. Martin has written this book is the fact that she is brutally honest about the realities we are facing and the challenges that confront anybody who endeavors to create positive change. This is no fairy tale about simply needing to envision change and it will happen; this is a hard-hitting book full of concrete examples about what real people are doing about real problems. The author states this focus quite clearly in her introduction, “Activism is a daily, even hourly, experiment in dedication, moral courage, and resilience. This book is an exploration of that effort.”
The author writes about eight individuals and the changes they are making. The stories are quite different regarding the details of each act of activism since she is telling the true stories of a peace activist, prison reentry social worker, veterans’ activist, filmmaker, radical philanthropist and others. Because of the diversity of individuals under thirty-five who are honored, each story is a deep learning experience.
The author’s concluding chapter provides the reader with well thought out ideas about how to positively move forward broken down into five ways of acting that are practical and relevant. The multiple pages of resources include organizations, readings and films that are comprehensive and diverse in their perspective about the realities of activism.
A second book about amazing changes being made by young people is titled, Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Change: Courageous Actions Around the World by Garth Sundem.
This book provides thirty examples of young people from sixteen countries, who have had a very positive impact on their country and in many cases the world. These stories are real, and every one of them involved young people identifying something that they felt was wrong and then doing something successful about it. Not one of the examples was easy. This was not young people going to their parents and their parents taking over. In many cases their parents were an obstacle. It was young people doing something that many said could not be done.
It is organized by the nature of the projects described in each chapter. The five chapters are Kids Saving the Environment, Kids Standing Up for Themselves, Kids Helping Others, Kids Overcoming Challenges, Kids Using Talents and Creativity. The stories are short and very easy to read, with pictures and graphics that help the story move ahead. There are Fast Fact boxes that provide information about the country where the action is occurring, or the kid taking action, or the success of the initiative. There are also Get Inspired postcard images in most chapters that provide information about how the reader can get involved in efforts that promote the initiative that has been described in the chapter. This is is an energizing and at the same time very informative book for anybody interested in identifying ways to improve our world while finding the resources that support that goal.
I have been lucky to have worked with and learned from strong young people who are having a positive impact like those mentioned in these two books. Here’s one example. Years ago, well-intentioned adults were working to get rid of cigarette vending machines in our town, machines that allowed anybody of any age to buy cigarettes. We had sought out ideas from young people in our town about how to most effectively make this happen. These efforts culminated in a meeting in front of the town council. Two of the adult leaders of our group spoke first without much of a reaction from the council members. Then an 8th grade member of our team took the floor. In ten minutes of impassioned, logical and compelling rhetoric she explained that if the town council did not respond positively to our requests, some of her friends were going to die as her mother had, from smoking cigarettes. She explained that no matter what the town council’s vote was, she would continue to do everything she could do to keep that from happening to those she loved. Our efforts succeeded and when the council members were interviewed after the meeting they said, to a person, that the reason that they had decided to support our initiative was because of the presentation by that 8th grade girl.
Many of the young people who worked on the initiative I just described were doing it because a parent or grandparent or other loved one had died from smoking cigarettes. Both my parents had died from smoking as well. As I continued doing career counseling with individuals of all ages I heard repeatedly that they had gone through the depression connected to a loved one having died from using tobacco related products. A second very negative reality that many of the individuals I coached had dealt with was having been sexually assaulted by family members, friends, “responsible” members of their community and others.
These conversations led me to write two novels, Dawn of Hope, and Dawn of the Tobacco Wars: The Sequel to Dawn of Hope. Both novels follow the exploits of Dawn Mortenson, a female teenage activist who has as her mission the lessening of the instances of sexual assault and bullying on and use of tobacco products by young people.
In the appendix of Dawn of Hope are a list of organizations that help individuals who are dealing with a loved one who is smoking or the depression attached to a loved one having died from a tobacco related illness. I have also listed organizations that help individuals who have, or are currently dealing with, sexual assault and/or bullying.
My experience with and writing about sexual assault and bullying led me to meet another amazing young person doing inspiring work. Sarah Beaulieu is an experienced advocate on sexual violence working with both survivors and the broader community. While at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center she served as a medical advocate and survivor speaker. She is the founder of The Enliven Project, a campaign to bring sexual violence out of the closet and lift survivors to their full potential. Sarah’s emerging nonprofit, The Uncomfortable Conversation, Inc. – is currently seeking partners for a ground -breaking video campaign designed to support practical conversations about sexual violence among Millennial men (ages 15-25). This campaign will help advance the dialogue about sexual assault and abuse, inspire support for survivors and change the culture that allows sexual violence to take place at all.
In conclusion, if towns, cities, states and countries do not embrace what their young people have to teach them, as demonstrated by the examples and books provided in this article, our world will move toward being an even more dangerous and unhealthy place to live. My website www.workforthecommongood.comprovides dozens of additional resources for people who want to have a positive impact on our world.