Actiivism saved me from myself as a teen – it’s the true anti-drug. I went from delinquent to “rebel with a cause” when I began to get involved in Nashville’s nascent recycling efforts back in the late 1980s. Because of this, I will always have a soft spot for teen activism/activists. Part of developing your own identity as a teen is figuring out what you believe in and often questioning what you were raised to believe. It’s a time of heady idealism, which only gets more intense during the college years (the photo is of “The O.C.” character Summer, who becomes an animal rights activist during her first semester at Brown).
Now that teens are totally wired, activism has gone digital as well. I have a whole chapter about this in my book so I don’t want to give too much away, but technology has enabled teen activists to connect and learn from one another whether it’s in the same town or another country. It goes beyond just clicking to sign petitions — the internet has enabled teens to research causes, candidates and companies. We began to see the power of social networking when thousands of Latino teens poured into the streets to protest proposed immigration legislation after hearing about the protests on MySpace. Get out the vote (GOTV) efforts have been incorporating text messaging for the past few years. Even politicians have started taking their message directly to young people on sites like MySpace and YouTube.
There has been a lot of criticism of this generation for being “armchair activists” or only interested in expressing their views through their pocketbooks (including criticism from me), but I think the Internet and cell phones have enabled/empowered regular teens to get involved in ways that are both easy and convenient as well as given the more active organizers a whole set of digital tools with which to change the world.
I just read this story today about how deaf students at Gallaudet University used handheld wireless devices to organize a protest that “led to the ouster of incoming President Jane K. Fernandes — who students and faculty said was autocratic and unable to tackle the school’s long-term problems during her years as provost.”
And MySpace just launched the Impact Awards for organizations that have used the service to create social change.
The following are some of the organizations and sites that are emblematic of Activism 2.0:
Check them out and spread the word to any teens you know who may be looking for ways to get involved.