Younger leaders aren't the "next generation"; they are the movement
Moving people from conversation to action isn’t easy. In fact, in progressive social justice circles it’s often some of the hardest work we can do. It’s also what Community Organizers are tasked with doing, and those of us who do that work for Planned Parenthood are no exception. That’s why when I got a call from my friend and fellow activist, Lizzy - a young leader I work with and know well - and she expressed frustration with the lack of action happening on her campus, I got really, really excited.
Now, apathy, stagnation, and lack of action don’t get me jazzed up - not for one minute. But when I hear that folks are committed to having conversations about systemic oppression, marginalization, and examining abuses of power, I know we have the seeds of something really huge being planted. Where there is conversation, there is almost always the willingness for action! That’s why I suggested we collaborate to bring folks together in a room and start talking about strategy, how we move committed young people from conversation about change to the next steps of making that change a reality. And that’s just what we did!
I often hear from older generations of activists that young people aren’t committed to the fight in the right way - that they aren’t rising up and organizing for their rights like they did (I often want to ask them what they think is happening in movements like Black Lives Matter and the Dreamer movement). Let me send this message to anyone who has doubts: young people are committed, creative, ambitious, and ready to move when it comes to creating the world we need! I know because last weekend I got to spend the day with progressive student activists at Connecticut College talking about what it means to be organizers, what it means to build relationships for change, and how we leverage our community's power to create a world where we can live safer, healthier lives with the dignity that we all deserve.
So often in this work, we talk about the “next generation” of the movement. We focus on developing younger leaders because one day they’ll be leading the movement that’s fighting for the lives of our communities. There’s only one problem with that view of social change: it’s dead wrong. The younger activists we see working out their politics on social media, building movements in communities and on campuses across the country, the ones who show up for the most important issues that impact their lives, they are the movement. We’re not waiting for them to join, or waiting for them to get it together. They’re waiting for us to get it together, to start listening and learning from them as much as we hope they will listen and learn what they can from us. We’re in this together and too often it can feel like only they know it.
This Saturday I’ll go back and get together with these activists who have built a sense of community with one another, focused on shifting power at Connecticut College, and in their communities, for the better. We’ll talk strategy, how to put their ideas into action, and how to center their activism around the lives of those most impacted by systems built on white supremacy and racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ableism, xenophobia, and so much more. The list of what’s most urgent in their lives doesn’t stop there, and their organizing won’t either! This Saturday, we will continue to learn from one another, create a strategic plan to make their visions reality, and we’ll take the next steps forward as a movement - together.