Student Rights

"One pen and one book can change the world." - Malala

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JASMINE LUNIA

@cosmic_athena

she/her

I talked to Student Rights Team Director and activist Jasmine Lunia about her foundation of SuSTEMability, organizing events, and the importance of youth voice and activism.

Shayna: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, I was really impressed with all of your work! What got you involved in youth and student activism specifically?

Jasmine: I began my journey in youth and student activism when I was about twelve years old, specifically using art to spark conversation through an art page I created on Instagram. After using my art as a form of activism for several years, my freshman year of high school I began to branch out into other forms of activism, mainly using social media, writing, and speaking to advocate against certain injustices. I became very interested in climate activism at this time, but realized that in my community youth voices were being overshadowed by adults who would tell us that our futures were less important than the economy. Thus, my journey into student rights’ activism began, as I wanted to lift up the important youth voices that weren’t being heard as much as they deserved. 

Shayna: Why are you an impassioned student rights advocate?

Jasmine: I irrevocably believe that young people are the future, and therefore must be listened to and heard. After all, many of us cannot even vote, yet are the people who will be most impacted by current political decisions. In addition, I believe that an education that takes into account students’ own learning styles, state of mind, and mental health is an absolute right for all students, yet many young people do not even have the right to go to school. This is something that I believe needs to be changed, and I want to use my voice to amplify the voices of those, both in the United States and elsewhere, who are not given the right to an adequate education.

Shayna: How have you gotten involved with youth activism and/or student rights activism specifically?

Jasmine: I have started an organization, SuSTEMability, dedicated to providing access to STEM education to the youth of all backgrounds as well as to amplify youth voices discussing STEM. In addition, I lead my local chapter of STEMteen, which likewise aims to provide quality STEM education and events to children of marginalized communities. Other than these initiatives, and of course, MKM, I spend my time advocating for student rights in more informal ways, such as speaking at climate marches and school events, writing about it on my social media platforms, and taking every opportunity in my daily life to ensure that students are getting the rights that they deserve. 

Shayna: Have you organized any events before? If so, what was that experience like?​

Jasmine: I have helped organize activism events at my schools, such as our annual “Voices and Views” conference, where we hear from passionate community speakers and activists. The experience was amazing, as I got to hear wise words from and interact with activists coming from completely different backgrounds as mine. I also learned how to be organized and ensure an event runs smoothly and saw everything that goes on “behind the scenes” in terms of planning events. I have not yet organized community activism events, however, I would love to in the future and plan on helping to organize marches as well as presentations regarding different areas of student rights activism. 

Shayna: What was the response surrounding your effects from your community and your peers?

Jasmine: The response has been mainly positive, as I have met so many other amazing youth activists through my own activism, and together we have cultivated a community that centers around uplifting each other and educating others about our respective forms of activism. I have also gradually gained the respect of certain adults, and many have tried to help me with ensuring that our community is a welcoming space for young people to blossom as activists. There, have, however, been negative responses to the work that I’ve done. I’ve heard from adults and peers alike that what I’m doing “doesn’t matter,” or “will make no real impact,” and in these situations, I tend to combat hate with education and explain why I do what I do.

Shayna: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better?

Jasmine: There are so many things society and lawmakers need to improve in their handling of, but one issue that is particularly urgent within the student rights field is education. There is a stark inequality within education-schools that get more funding are typically in locations that cater to more financially privileged families, whereas many schools located in low-income communities are underfunded, and many of these communities are made up primarily of people of color. Neither the income of a child’s family nor the color of their skin should determine the education they get. In addition, college admissions are incredibly unfair, as many colleges do not take into consideration the reasons for one’s stats, and therefore see a student with a 4.0 GPA who has access to tutoring and ample free time as intellectually superior to a student with a 3.0 GPA who is working full time along with completing schoolwork. This leads to unfair standards placed on many students. Also, many schools tend not to consider the mental health of their students. These issues show that our education system widely needs reform.

Shayna: Why do you think it’s important for the youth to get involved?

Jasmine: Simply put, this is OUR future! I believe it is so important for youth to get involved in activism because, at the end of the day, we and our children are the people that these actions are going to impact the most. Therefore, we should take our futures into our own hands. In addition, we currently cannot vote and therefore don’t necessarily have the systematic impact that older people are given, and it’s important that we try to make a change in other ways.

Shayna: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

Jasmine: Never feel like you don’t belong in an activism space. This may sound obvious, but when I first started getting involved I felt intimidated by the fact that many of the people speaking up were adults, and many who weren’t adults seemed so much more accomplished and well-spoken than me. While it’s easy to get caught up in this, remember that you are working towards a common goal, and your voice matters! An important part of activism is having diverse voices to listen to, so don’t worry if you’re at an event and don’t fit the profile of a typical activist there. Make yourself heard!

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AVINASH SHOLEVAR

@avisholevar

He/Him

MKM Student Rights Director Jasmine Lunia talked to 17-year-old Avinash Sholevar from the USA. They discussed his foundation and involvement with the International Youth Politics Forum and his passion for student rights related activism through the governmental perspective.

Jasmine: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, I was really impressed with all of your work! What got you involved in youth and student activism specifically?

Avinash: That’s a great question. My path towards student activism has not been as direct as one might expect and involves a series of experiences that exposed me to several injustices and inequalities occurring around the world on a personal level. The first stepping stone on my path to activism was a medical Spanish immersion program I did in Ecuador, where I visited rural areas in a traveling clinic and did rotations with a pharmacist, a doctor, and a dentist. These areas had not seen patient care for over a year and desperately needed it.

 

The summer after 10th grade I decided to explore different avenues of countering injustice and inequality through summer programs, one of which was through the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where I attended a program focusing on human rights advocacy, and the other was through Yale University, where I had the opportunity to explore issues around the world through seminars and speeches from notable figures. Through these three experiences, I gained a better understanding of what was going on in the world around me not only in terms of these themes of injustice and inequality but also of what I could do about it. That is, as I found out, pretty much nothing through any official or meaningful channels. When I got back, I got involved with my local court system by sitting on a panel in the context of injustice and criminal law reform. Additionally, I began to volunteer with my local congressman.

 

However, this was not enough. I felt as if I needed to do better, and needed to not work from behind the scenes to make a change but to actively do something about it. The International Youth Politics Forum, better known as the IYPF, was the product of this urge. I reached out to kids from the Penn and Yale programs I attended and started the organization with the aim of not only telling the news but also educating other students and influencing current events. Instead of sitting behind a desk and making slow change because I am under the age of 18, I now have the opportunity to influence politics in a more direct manner.

Jasmine: Why are you an impassioned student rights advocate?

Avinash: My path towards student rights activism was, as I mentioned, non-linear. I felt as if I could not influence the world enough by sitting on a panel or behind a desk, so I became a student activist. I firmly believe that other students deserve the same opportunity to share their perspectives and opinions. Empowering other students is a way to make each other’s voices heard. As more of us stand together, we will become a larger voice in society. We are the future, and it's time we take control of the conversation not in spite of our age, but because of it.

Jasmine: How have you gotten involved with youth activism and/or student rights activism specifically?

Avinash: Through the founding of the International Youth Politics Forum, the co-founders of the organization and I have promoted other students and given them a platform from which they can voice their own opinions and control the conversation. I have gotten involved with youth activism and student rights activism largely through the government system.

 

On the court panel, several other students and I work towards criminal justice reform and have our voices heard in a place where it matters. Other students should seize every opportunity available to them to influence their community in a manner that will enhance the traditions and systems that we will come to inherit.

 

Once again, I believe that encouraging other members of the youth community to share their voices makes all kids’ voices stronger in the end.

Jasmine: Have you organized any events before? If so, what was that experience like?​

Avinash: The only event I have organized as an International Model United Nations conference through the International Youth Politics Forum. The reasoning behind this was twofold: Primarily, the conference was designed to encourage students to have an active role in making important decisions on current topics such as the Ukraine conflict, human trafficking, and more. The secondary reason we held this conference was for mental health purposes. During the pandemic, a lot of kids I knew were feeling the effects of social distancing and isolation, and our team believed that holding a conference would be a good way to encourage youth interaction in a constructive yet safe manner. Additionally, many youth conferences cost hundreds of dollars to organize. Our conference was open to everyone of all income levels since we did not charge an admissions fee. This was unique and opened the conference up to different perspectives that may not typically be present.

 

The experience itself was not only gratifying but powerful. Spearheading an effort to organize youth in order to empower them was a heady experience, and being able to interact and speak to various students about their backgrounds and hear their viewpoints was an experience I can only hope to replicate in the future.

Jasmine: What was the response surrounding your effects from your community and your peers?

Avinash: The response to our organization’s actions has been extremely positive. We are unique in that, within every article, we balance our arguments by providing parallel arguments for and against the issue, or analyzing different aspects of an issue. This “paper debate” system has truly allowed the IYPF to appeal not just to one side of the political spectrum, but to all variants. Additionally, as we seek to balance youth perspectives, we debate issues that are personal and interesting to members of the youth community. Thus, other students have genuinely enjoyed reading pieces on current events from their peers.

Jasmine: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better?

Avinash: Ad hominem attacks have recently penetrated the media and law making bodies. Attacking the personality of any one political figure instead of debating the issues at hand denigrates and deteriorates the political process. Ad hominem arguments stall political debate and create arguments between branches of government that are counterproductive. Society and lawmakers need to focus on the issues instead of berating each other. If they managed to do this, we would have a more effective and functional government.

Jasmine: Why do you think it’s important for the youth to get involved?

Avinash: Every young member of society not involved in the conversation on global issues hinders the rest of us. As I keep stressing, the more unified we are, and the more of us there are, the stronger a voice we will all have. The youth needs to empower themselves, and this is why it is essential for kids to get involved. The change we want to see will only come about if we get involved. Waiting for change to happen despite inaction is unreasonable. Sitting on the sidelines of the conversation is not the answer.

Jasmine: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

Avinash: Empowering yourself and speaking out is not hard. Find a platform, or make one. Reach out to other people. Standing alone in the world is not the answer; involving other people and gathering followers or joining a movement will allow you to become a more effective voice of reason rather than one singular person voicing his or her opinion. Furthermore, do not found something for the sake of founding something. If you are not passionate about an issue, you will not be effective in analyzing and debating it.

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MARIAH NORMAN

@mariah.norman

She/Her/Hers

MKM Student Rights Director Jasmine Lunia talked to 17-year-old Mariah Norman from Mason, OH. They discussed about how she got involved with activism, her involvement with National School Walkout, and how the next generation can lead and be the face of social change.

Jasmine: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, I was really impressed with all of your work! What got you involved in youth and student activism specifically?

Mariah: Thank you! I got involved with youth activism through my natural outspokenness and empathy for people. I’ve always been drawn to helping people and using my voice to advocate for those who may not know that they have one yet.

Jasmine: What got you so involved in student activism? Can you identify a specific catalyst?

Mariah: My specific catalyst that got me involved was definitely the National School Walkout back in 2017. I was only a freshman at the time but was thrust into the world of student activism when I found myself on a team with five other upperclassmen to organize an event for over 600 students advocating for gun control in my community. I was so inspired and honestly shocked at the magnitude of our reach, and it was the first time I realized that I can invoke real change in the world, even at only 14 years old.

Jasmine: What has it been like organizing events?

Mariah: Learning how to organize events has been one of the most stressful, yet rewarding experiences of my life. It’s taught me how to problem-solve, how to consider other perspectives, and how to work with a plethora of people to reach a final goal. No matter how many times I’ve wanted to quit after a major curveball, it’s always worth it in the end.

Jasmine: What was the response surrounding your effects from your community and your peers?

Mariah: There will always be people that don’t agree with your mission or even the way you go about doing it, but I’ve found it’s best to focus on the strength of the support that we do have. It fuels us and keeps us going as a community of activists and agents of change!

Jasmine: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better?

Mariah: I think our society needs to do better with amplifying the voices and projects of student activists of color and other activists from underrepresented communities. It can become so easy to focus on the same group of teenagers as the face of the movement when it’s really important to also support minority voices. We need to focus on the intersectionality between diversity and these important social issues, not separating the two.

Jasmine: Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to creating change?

Mariah: It’s so important to connect with other young people because it gives them a chance to discover a new passion or explore what they’re already passionate about, but with a platform to utilize. In this way, we empower the thoughts and feelings of our generation and prove how much our ideas really do matter. If we don’t like how something is done, who says we have to wait around for an adult to fix it?

Jasmine: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future?

Mariah: Currently, I just finished up a Service Worker Mutual Aid Fund that raised over $11,000 to financially support 93 service workers around the world and their families after finding themselves suddenly unemployed due to COVID-19 closures. Through this, we’ve built a community of kindness that proves just how interconnected we really are, and how important it is to lean on each other in times of need. It inspires me and gives me hope for a future of radical change within a broken system.

Jasmine: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

Mariah: My advice would be to not be afraid of fear, or failure, or ridicule. You will encounter each of these things more than once in your journey. The key is to not let it stop you from advocating and taking action on what you know is right in the world.

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INDUJA KUMAR

@indujakumar

She/Her/Hers

MKM Student Rights Director Jasmine Lunia talked to 17-year-old Induja Kumar from Chandler, AZ. They discussed her involvement with MFOL and Youth Empower, organizing events, and an activiwst-related blog on Medium. 

Jasmine: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, I was really impressed with all of your work! What got you involved in youth and student activism specifically? What has it been like organizing events?

Induja: I have been involved actively with the work being done by March For Our Lives and Youth Empower, the youth branch of the Women's March.

Jasmine: What got you so involved in student activism? Can you identify a specific catalyst?

Induja: I think that after 2016, I wanted to be part of the resistance of what I thought Donald Trump represented. But I did not realize that as a teenager I could play an active role in trying to change the problems we face until I saw what students in Parkland were doing with Gun Violence Prevention. 

Jasmine: What has it been like organizing events?

Induja: Organizing events is definitely hectic. A lot of the time, especially when organizing rallies, I end up having to clarify I am a student and not an adult. Creating the understanding that even as a young person I am able to have the authority and power and knowledge about a subject in order to organize around it is definitely an internal process for me. 

Jasmine: What was the response surrounding your effects from your community and your peers?

Induja: I think at first, especially from my parents it was negative/discouraging. But I was able to convince my parents and my friends, especially after receiving media attention from other organizations, it was much easier to convince my parents and my community that the work I was doing was important and valuable. 

Jasmine: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better?

Induja: They need to listen to their constituents instead of lobbyists. 

Jasmine: Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to creating change?

Induja: The youth are a large and growing demographic. Activating and educating them is key to creating a progressive coalition and usher in an era of better advocates.

Jasmine: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future?

Induja: I am currently digitally organizing with March For Our Lives, and I am starting an activism and politics related blog on Medium. Link: https://medium.com/@indujakumar

Jasmine: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

Induja: Seek out organizers with experience. They will teach you what the right way to approach changemaking is. Staying local is the best way to effect the most change. 

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ELLA YITZHAKI

@

MKM Student Rights Director Jasmine Lunia talked to 17-year-old Ella Yitzhaki from San Fransisco, CA. They discussed the importance of youth and student activism and her work with ACA 4 in Congress. 

Jasmine: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, I was really impressed with all of your work! What got you involved in youth and student activism specifically? What has it been like organizing events?

Ella: My introduction to activism wasn’t as linear as many would expect. My introduction to politics was in 5th grade as the 2012 presidential debates glared from my family’s TV. I didn’t understand what frankly any of it meant, but I was enamored. After endless questions to my mother about what the two men in front of me were talking about, I was invested in politics. 

When 2016 rolled around, my love for politics only increased. This time I wasn’t just watching the candidates argue the issues, I was forming my own opinions on them. I continued to watch the debates alongside my mom and debate the details of healthcare, immigration, etc until a lightbulb turned on. I realized that by 2020, I would be 18 by the general election. As a smile burst across my face, I soon learned my hamartia. My July birthday obviously allowed me to vote in the general, but the March primary was unclear. A part of me assumed that California, a progressive state that encourages everyone to be a part of the political process, would have already dealt with this issue of partial ineligibility, but another part of me recognized that this is a somewhat obscure issue. Much to my dismay, California did not let all those who are 18 by the general election to vote in the primary election.

I tried to quell my anger as I continued my last days of middle school which included a trip to D.C. Fortunately, our representative, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, found time in her busy schedule to meet with my class. My teacher, knowing my love of politics, asked me to be a representative of our class. Being in the middle of the 2016 election, I knew I would have to ask her something in regards to her opinions on the intense election. When the moment to ask her questions came following our photo-op, she answered in a polished, professional manner, but then she did the unthinkable: she turned the question of me. As all eyes in the room glared at me, I took a breath and began to explain my criticism and my compliments of each of the candidates. Much to my surprise, she responded by saying, “Wow, you seem to know a lot.” Her words filled me with newfound hope and optimism for myself and my future. With this newfound confidence, I knew I had to take on the issue that was frustrating me most: my voting ineligibility in the 2020 primary. 

Following the meeting with Pelosi, I transformed my passion into action. I helped form an advocacy committee, completed hours of research, made a commitment to meet with legislators whenever I could, and made sure to chat with my peers and my community about the issue. Through my work, I learned it is a nonpartisan issue with nearly half the country having laws in place that already deal with the exclusion of young people in the primaries even if they can vote in the general election. After nearly 4 years of phone calls with journalists, town halls after school, and endless dialogue with those around me about how they felt about the exclusion of young people from the primary, I was invited to testify before the State Assembly Elections Committee for a bill, known as ACA 4, that would allow all those who are eligible to vote in the general election to vote in the primary to be able to vote in the primary election. While preparing my remarks, I looked back on the debate of fifth grade, the meeting with Speaker Pelosi, and the fateful night this whole endeavor began. I was introduced as the youth’s perspective on the issue. Taking a moment, I looked around at a similarly tense room I had seen in that meeting with the Speaker, the key difference being that I was the change maker. ACA 4 passed out of the assembly committee! While this wasn’t a green light, it was a sign that people still cared about my “little eighth-grade project.” If the bill passes onward, it will make it onto California's 2020 ballot for the voters to decide. Although it will be too late for me to participate in my state’s primary, my work has helped unlock the political potential for hundreds of thousands of teenagers. In the end, my work won’t be over when teenagers have a new voting opportunity--my political work has only begun. 

Jasmine: What was the response surrounding your effects from your community and your peers? Did you find similarly minded activists who were also willing to take on important issues like student rights?

Ella: My peers and my global community has been incredibly supportive of not only ACA 4 but also my activism in general. Many folks are simply encouraged to see a young woman proudly sharing her political opinions. I didn’t find any other similar activists, but I found a body of my peers who were just as frustrated as I was. This propelled me to continue the endless town hall meetings, the long conversations with community leaders, etc.

Jasmine: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better when it comes to youth and anything else?

Ella: Other than ACA 4, I think lawmakers and young people need to strengthen their patron-client network through a stronger dialogue between the two bodies. Specifically, though, I’d love to see more young people in our government. As much as I adore and respect many leaders within our national government, far too many of them are of older ages. I’d love to see a society in which it isn’t considered surprising to see a 30-year-old or even a 25-year-old run for public office. I think the more representation for young people, the better for they will understand the gravity of issues like climate change, student debt, and poorly- funded public education. 

Jasmine: Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to creating change?

Ella: In order to verify that any issue that you believe is important to young people actually is, you must create a strong dialogue with your peers about the issue you want to focus on. When I talked with young people, I learned how to deal with folks assuming that ACA 4 is merely lowering the voting age. I learned how to make sure I explain what we are working efficiently and effectively to those who are affected by it. Once my peers understood what I was focused on, many cheered me on as they began to realize their own exclusion from the system we are encouraged to be a part of. 

Jasmine: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future?

Ella: As a college student, I hope to continue to message of ACA 4 to other states that exclude those who can vote in the general election but cannot in the primary election. In fact, Cornell University is located in New York which is one of the 27 states that do not allow those who are eligible to vote by the general to automatically vote in the primary. My dream would be to use my time in New York to advocate for young people just as I’ve done in California. 

Jasmine: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

Ella: I would refer them to one of my favorite Robert F Kennedy quotes, “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve a lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples to build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

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ELIOT NEBOLSINE

@e.neb

MKM Student Rights Director Jasmine Lunia talked to 17-year-old Eliot Nebolsine from Alexandria, VA. Eliot is also MKM's new Immigrant Rights team member! They discussed  Women’s March Youth, immigration reform, and volunteer work.

Jasmine: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, I was really impressed with all of your work! What got you involved in youth and student activism specifically?

Eliot:  I started getting involved in activism when Trump was elected. I had lived my life in a trance and didn't even realize that people had different beliefs. I was in the bubble of my family, and of Northern Virginia, and had only seen those views. Then Donald Trump was elected. I came to school and cried. I had never cried at school. But I saw peers, teachers, people I saw as role models, celebrating over the election of someone I knew was going to ruin our country, and define my four years of high school. I did not want that to happen. I wanted my four years of high school to be defined by hanging with friends, doing well in sports, having new experiences, and learning new things. I refused to let these years of my life be defined by the negativity and tyranny of Donald Trump. So I didn’t. I decided to make a change.

        I attended the first 2 women's marches and was inspired by those who were speaking on the stages- that was what I wanted to do. I wanted to be the one leading change and leading effective activism. Prior to the 2018 March, Women’s March Youth advertised on their Instagram that they wanted to plan a pre-march event. I put down my email and thought nothing of it. Then, the previous youth leader reached out to me, and I was hooked. I loved feeling the effective change, and I loved being able to see my hard work benefiting others in a way that was tangible. From there, I knew I needed to do more- and that it had to be with the women's march. I reached out to them, learned how to start a chapter, and just ran from there.

Jasmine: What has it been like organizing events?

Eliot: Stressful, rewarding, amazing, confusing, though- there are really no words! Building up to any event is tough. You are putting in hours and hours of work, and you really don't see the results, until the event. That's the tough and stressful part. But the second that your event starts- you realize why you are doing this. During the fall, our chapter held a panel discussing youth activism and gun violence. We worked SO HARD on this, and it took so much planning and logistics, and the whole time we had the worry that people wouldn't come. BUT, we had more than 50 people come, we had 7 different speakers, and had such a powerful and moving discussion. The moments where I could see people's faces where they had a sudden realization of what change could be and the power of youth was so powerful. I think the other tricky part of organizing all of this, is the after. You just put in all of this work, and then it's over. You see such AMAZING results and feel worried you can't top it. For me, I feel stuck and not really sure what to do next. But, the incredible community I have built is always there to support me and help me find out what's next :)

Jasmine: What was the response surrounding your effects from your community and your peers?

Eliot: The response has been so positive and supportive. We would not have been able to make any change without the support of our community. Our school has been amazing in providing us with resources. Our community has provided us with speakers, and an incredible support system. Our peers have provided us with a drive. They are the reason we are trying to change things for the better.

Jasmine: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better?

Eliot: There are so many things that I think need to be changed. I feel particularly passionate about immigration reform, gun control, women’s rights, and climate action. However, I think that all of these cannot be worked on or resolved without the youth voice. Lawmakers are continuing to just consult with people their age, and with that, we are stuck in the same place. When lawmakers consult with youth, you get absolute power and absolute action. Look at United Students against Sweatshops, the Flint water crisis, March for Our Lives, Black Lives Matter, and SO MUCH MORE. These are all movements that have triggered the change, and best of all, is backed by youth.

Jasmine: Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to creating change?

Eliot: What most people (especially adults) fail to realize, is that youth is our future. We are the ones who will be affected by decisions now, and we are the ones who need to be working for change. Adults consistently are coddling young people, saying “I'll tell you more when you are older”, but when we are older is when we are making the decisions. Instead of trying to cover and shield our youth, we need to embrace the power that we have and bring youth into all of the places where decisions are being made. Ultimately, these are the people that will be running the country. We need to make sure that young people learn how to make effective change, and that they have an established passion for activism.

Jasmine: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future?

Eliot: With everything currently happening, we are more focused on unifying and making sure those close to us are safe. I have been volunteering online for the candidate I support in the 2020 election, doing some random online volunteer work where I can, but mostly I am trying to be there for those who need it.

Jasmine: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

Eliot: Do it. When I wanted to get started with activism, I really didn't know-how. There was no one who was telling me what to do, and I felt really discouraged in the fact that I just didn't know what to do. So, I started looking at Instagram and finding activism accounts. I would DM them, fill out forms to put my email in, google places to volunteer, use protest finders, and just consult with organizations within my school. Once I started, I realized that I really wanted to make an outlet for people to come to that was obviously for activism in my school. It can get hard, and there will be people saying “ you’re too young” or “ maybe you should let other people handle this”, ignore them. This is your future, and we are the ones who are going to be in charge soon. We are responsible for the direction this country goes in, and we need to make our voices heard now.

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TAYLOR WANG

@_taylorwang

MKM Student Rights Director Jasmine Lunia talked to 16-year-old Taylor Wang from Seattle, WA. Taylor is also MKM's new Art Activism partnership! They discussed art activism and Student Art Spaces.

Jasmine: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, I was really impressed with all of your work! What got you involved in youth and student activism specifically?

Taylor:  I think young people have so much power! We are the first generation that can rally for change on a global level, turn Instagram pages into social movements, and do things our ancestors thought impossible—all while studying for AP exams. As a queer Asian girl, I often wrestle with my identity. Youth activism has taught me to value myself not because of how I look or how I present myself, but what I can contribute to the issues I care about. 

Jasmine: I would like to talk to you more about your work with student activism regarding the arts. What got you so involved? Can you identify a specific catalyst?

Taylor: I’m an artist myself, and I have been since I was very young. Growing up in a Chinese American community, my unconventional passions for art and activism were not exactly supported. While family friends were off studying for medicine or computer science, I was entering art contests and exhibiting work. As I tried to gain exposure, I realized just how many galleries and publications required a hefty submission fee (upwards of $100), piled on with a plethora of other fees. Not only was the art industry restrictive toward teen artists from low-income backgrounds, but it was also taboo for artists of color to enter. I co-founded Student Art Spaces to combat these financial barriers, as well as uplift artists who may not be receiving that encouragement from their families and communities.

Jasmine: What has it been like organizing events?

Taylor: It’s been the best and most stressful experience I’ve ever had. From helping teens showcase their work for the first time to seeing older generations admire our youth galleries, I am endlessly grateful for the connections I’ve made through organizing these events. What blows my mind the most is the fact that this project is truly teen-led, in every sense of the word. About a year ago, my co-founder Alice and I were holed up in a Starbucks looking up what the IRS is. Now, we’re a nationwide network of volunteers and artists, with chapters in Dallas, NYC, LA, and more every day!

Jasmine: What was the response surrounding your effects from your community and your peers? Did you find similarly minded activists who were also willing to tackle such issues?

Taylor: After hosting our first gallery, we received tons of messages from other teens asking how they could get involved, or what they could do to start something like Student Art Spaces in their city. Overwhelmed with support, we got started brainstorming our second phase. Our team sat down, wrote a volunteer handbook and a chapter playbook, and distributed it to all the new faces. I was awestruck at the amount of people who wanted to uplift young artists—it felt like we were truly igniting a nationwide movement. Our Texas chapter, led by Frisco high schoolers Srin and Shreya, has already secured a space for their first equitable teen gallery!

Jasmine: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better at when it comes to students rights?

Taylor: Listen to the youth! We know more than you think. Instead of talking about us, talk TO us. Older generations often criticize young people for being social media obsessed or disrespectful towards authority, but these traits are actually the reason why our generation is so educated and active. We use social media to promote our causes to peers across the world. We don’t let our knowledge go to waste, but instead, we use it to fight for what we believe in—even if it means ruffling a few feathers.

Jasmine: Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to creating change?

Taylor: It’s so important for young people to get their start in activism through other young people. When I was in 9th grade, my friend roped me into canvassing for a local political campaign. Later on, I joined an art equity council at a nearby museum, composed entirely of teens. Even though it was a completely new experience, I felt at ease both of those times because I felt like I could be treated as an equal. My ideas were not invalidated because I was too young or inexperienced. Instead, I could contribute to the conversation without fear of judgment or belittlement. The world of activism can be daunting at first, but it’s much easier to get involved when you’re surrounded by like-minded peers. 

Jasmine: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future?

Taylor: Many plans have been canceled lately due to COVID-19, and Student Art Spaces is not an exception. We’re not letting it keep us down though! In response to the growing anxiety surrounding our current circumstances, we’re hosting an open call for writing, art, and just about anything else that’ll fit inside an email for our first teen anthology publication: Art During a Pandemic. Visit https://www.studentartspaces.org/anthology to submit before April 11, 2020!

Jasmine: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Taylor: Make the first move. If you are a young person who sees an issue in your community, and there hasn’t been anything done about it, do it. Google things, DM other activists for advice and go full force into it. You’ll need a team because you can’t do it alone, so gather your friends and don’t be scared to reach out to local influential leaders. 

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ARIANNA NASSIRI

@arianna.a.nassiri

MKM Student Rights Director Jasmine Lunia talked to 17-year-old Arianna Nassiri from San Francisco, CA. They discussed local politics, interactions with politicians, and Vote16.

Jasmine: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, I was really impressed with all of your work! What got you involved in youth and student activism specifically?

Arianna:  Before my career began, I spent most of my free time involved in competitive athletics, primarily skiing, tennis, and dance. I began my political activity within the city community in eighth grade, when I interned in the office of London Breed, who was at that point the supervisor for my city district. Those months of insider experience in policy writing and community fortification really catalyzed what my role has developed into today. 

When experiencing the typical policy agenda of local politicians, I realized little attention was being paid on how representative policy was with who it would impact. With further investigation, it became clearer that young people were a large population that had no seat at the table when legislation is being penned. From then on, I’ve focused my work on making sure that youth issues were being considered when governing takes place.

Jasmine: I would like to talk to you more about your work with student activism regarding Vote16. What got you so involved? Can you identify a specific catalyst?
 

Arianna: As aforementioned, comparing the median age Of American voters with respect to the median age of the population makes clear that there is a discrepancy between the needs of the population and the manner in which it’s being represented in US elections. This represents a major crisis regarding the integrity of US democracy; given that, I decided to involve myself in fortifying the democratic principles outlined in the foundation of our country. It’s an issue that crosses party lines; it’s less an issue of what policy is being passed, but a question of whether election results can be considered legitimate if a large portion of adept and educated voters are being disenfranchised.

Jasmine: What has it been like organizing events to lower the voting age and get youth activists more involved in politics? 

Arianna: Discussion around lowering the voting age is surprisingly more difficult than I thought it would be entering these campaigns. Both young and older citizens have adopted the stigma around changing a system that has seemingly existed for centuries. However, I try to remind people of why the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 after war with Vietnam; government realized that drafting young adults and not allowing them to vote in elections was a breach in the rights of citizenship. It is obvious that currently, young people are a lot more involved and passionate around politics than they once were, so Incentive is not an issue when organizing youth related events. And in my opinion, debate around lowering the voting age is a lot more valuable than a discussion between people who agree; having that room for conversation and discussion regarding principles of American democracy and the political maturity of young people allows both myself and others involved in the conversation to greater realize the unmet needs of young people with regards to election results.

Jasmine: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better at when it comes to young people?

Arianna: I think American lawmakers need to at least consider the needs of young people in order to provide a level of legitimacy and representativeness to their legislation. it would be a lot more streamlined to lower the voting age and allow for young people to incorporate their needs into the general demand of the American population, but facilitating discussion at the policy writing table is a step in the right direction.

Jasmine: Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to creating change?

Arianna: When it comes to American democracy, every individual is as equal a citizen and therefore deserves an equal level of consideration on the legislative level. By this logic, youth issues impact all young people, and it is critical to have as many voices to mobilize as possible. Even if you think that you are not interested in politics, I can guarantee that every subject based interest can eventually come down to political issues.

Jasmine: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future?

Arianna: I’m currently working on publishing a Research report on the nuances of American democracy and the need for reform of the American election system. I’m also currently involved with two political campaigns that are set to be on the November 2020 ballot in San Francisco. Project that I’ve just begun working on involves discussions with both members of generation Z and baby boomers around the current state of our global climate, and what steps every member of our communities can take to alleviate some of the impact that we are experiencing from global warming.

Jasmine: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

Arianna: I would tell any young person who seeks change to just remember that all reform starts with one catalyst. Greta Thunberg’s impact on globalization issues of climate change should serve as a testament to just how impactful one young persons voice can be.

© 2019 by Meddling Kids Movement