Hannah Weintraub is a high school senior who will be writing and editing pieces on youth voices each week.
A few weeks ago I participated in a Huffington Post Live talk show about teen access to emergency contraception. On the panel of speakers there was a doctor, a father, a mother, and me. Invariably, as I tried to speak up, one of the older panelists would jump in and cut me off. At the end of the show, an online commenter remarked on this frequent interruption saying, “This is a conversation about teen girls’ access to contraception and information. Why do all of these old farts keep talking over the 17-year-old? She has the only relevant perspective in this conversation.”
We laughed at this comment yet in reality it spoke so much truth. Our national agenda encompasses many issues that have a great effect on teens or young women yet our opinions have been left out of the discussion and ignored. Many politicians, activists, and adults alike have silenced youth voices and relegated our involvement to the role of bystander. If young people wish to have the future we would like to inhabit, we must reclaim our voices and demand that we have a say on issues that affect our lives.
On the surface, my generation has grown up with the greatest chance to spread our messages to far-reaching corners via the Internet. Facebook and Twitter have given us the tools to “like” what our friends do and share “what’s on our minds,” yet few adults take comments from these social media sites seriously. A post on Facebook about inequality or injustice usually gets lost under the crushing avalanche of selfies and “it’s complicated” relationship statuses. Tumblr has emerged as a way for young people to express themselves, but again, the few adults who know about the site often discredit posts as angsty, teenage musings. These outlets that were supposedly created to give teens a way to connect and share their thoughts abandon their young users, so we are again left with few ways to funnel our frustration into meaningful change.
Of course, there are other ways for youth opinions to be heard besides social media.
Protests and civil rights movements have historically acted as the megaphone for America’s disenfranchised and oppressed. Yet the rebellious spirit that founded and shaped our nation seems to be lying dormant in my generation. This summer, I listened with admiration to stories of youth protests against college tuition hikes in Canada and England and wondered why similar movements haven’t cropped up in America. Students around the world have stood up and rebelled against injustice, yet it seems that too many of my American peers have decided to sit down and just watch as current legislation and decisions dismantle our future security and wellbeing.
Still, even when youth try to become involved in social activism, in my experience, we are often pushed to the sides by sociological jargon, complicated theories, and age-related discrimination. For many activists, a teenager experiencing injustice is not enough to warrant them as an equal with valid complaints. We must have taken the classes and read the books that explain to us the inequality we face on a daily basis. This elitism often builds up more walls than it aims to break down.
This past year, I tried to become involved in NOW but I was met with roadblocks because I was “too young.” Movements that attempt to create a more egalitarian world should look at how their goals are manifested within their own organizations and begin to create environments that welcome perspectives of all ages and experience.
RH Reality Check recognizes the importance of the youth voice and is creating this outlet for increased youth expression, and is giving me a space to write each week on a wide range of reproductive justice issues. Soon we will also begin to feature more pieces from other youth contributors. Still, writing articles is not enough. We need to act on our ideas to push for reproductive and social justice. It is up to us, young people, to shout out our concerns and direct the frustrations we write and read about into a movement that will rock our world and avert the bleak future which we otherwise are letting others construct and to which we are allowing them to restrict us.