I grew up in Manhattan and in the months after September 11th, my peers and I naturally felt uneasy seeing our home in a state of chaos, smoke, and ash. My family moved to a suburb just outside of New York City, but even there my high school friends and I were not free from the worry.
Our town was only a few miles away from the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant. A teacher of mine made it very clear that if another attack in our region of the country were to happen, this power plant would be a likely target. “How long would we have to escape?” my classmate asked, to which our teacher responded: “We would all be gone before you know it. We would say, ‘Oh, what a nice white light, I wond–” His sentence devolved into explosion noises.
Our teacher’s dark humor got the point across – this powerplant was a clear and present danger to our community. The thought of losing my new home and yard, my family and my dog, my high school and friends, everything as I knew it, gone in a blink of an eye was too much. Our teacher could even see the throbbing red light at the plant from his house where he lived with his wife and newborn son. His personal stance of having a solar and geothermal-powered house was a promising step to new energy sources, but I knew something had to be done to shut this plant down immediately.
I attended public debate taking place at our community center and bravely stood up (hard for a shy, 5 foot tall student whose voice shook) to ask a question of the Indian Point representative regarding the status of their inadequate safety measures. She deftly skirted my question without answering it and I was defeated. This had been my one chance to expose them and it had not worked. I felt isolated, as one of the only youth in the room and I was not being taken seriously. I had no idea what my next question should be, or how to continue campaigning to close Indian Point. I was upset that I had not been provided practical skills in school in lobbying and activism. I was unprepared and directionless.
Luckily, I got hooked on the thrill of speaking truth to power. The rush I got from standing in front of the group stuck with me so I continued to talk about Indian Point and other environmental issues I saw in my community that I wanted to change. I kept talking with people who shared my interests and values and as a result made adult and youth allies in my town and ended up building a network that put me on a path toward environmental and social justice organizing.
That path led me straight into Generation Citizen. Now, the thrill I get is being able to see that light bulb (powered by imagination, not particles) go off for young people when they get the experience of speaking truth to power. Something about that mission, or experiencing the activism lightbulb has led you to us, and to this blog post. At some point in your life you have probably faced the same frustration and desire to take action as I felt, as do many young people in our program. Whether you’re a young person in our program, a college volunteer, or a friend of ours, you’ve probably been limited by a lack of educational resources or tools at some point in your life. When did someone evade your question because it was easy to dismiss your young voice? When did you become aware that you needed a team to work with that that you needed tools passed down to you by an expert?
Our goal is to make sure that all youth are adequately prepared with skills to stand up for what they believe in. Through Generation Citizen, students have the opportunity to speak truth to power. However, even as we grow our program, we are still not reaching everyone that we need to. How can we make sure that all young people get their questions answered and can protect what they love about their hometown?
The answer: we are launching a new campaign in Massachusetts called “Return to Democracy: young Americans revive civic education to reclaim democracy.” We are taking steps at both the local and state-levels to bring action civics to all students so that they have first-hand experience in advocating to safeguard their own well-being and that of their community.
Our official campaign kickoff is Tuesday, June 24th from 6-8pm at our new office at 745 Atlantic Avenue in Boston. The gathering is open to all of our adult and youth allies including our first-ever cohort of Community Change Fellows. Will you be there to join us for the campaign kickoff? We need your help to make sure that young people get the in-school training they deserve. Together, we can empower a generation to protect our communities and reclaim democracy.