Net Impact Book Club: Youth to Power, Part II
Welcome to the Net Impact Book Club, a curated selection of social and environmental must-reads to keep you feeling inspired during the summer months. We’ll be featuring works by informative, influential writers and leaders across different fields and industries and providing you with key questions and takeaways to consider from each book.
Youth to Power
In Part II of our exploration of Jamie Margolin’s Youth to Power, we look deeper into her advice and outlook for how emerging activists and civic engagement leaders can build movements and drive change.
Here, we look at three important themes and topics that appear in the second half of the book:
Know Your Power, Use Your Voice
Youth to Power is, at times, one part toolkit for citizens getting involved in the social and environmental justice movements and one part insightful reflection of Margolin’s journey as an activist and her experience growing a movement and becoming an expert in rallying her peers to fight for a greater cause. Throughout the book, she reflects on what it means to be a young leader and provides useful instruction on how to steel yourself to the invalidations, frustrations, lack of financial resources, and underestimations that come with leading a movement at such a young age. Margolin provides the following tips to her peers as they strive to defy stereotypes imposed upon them by older generations:
- Learn everything there is to know about the issues you care about. Your activism is as much about learning to organize people as it is about educating yourself on every aspect of the topic you are committed to working for. By becoming an expert, by overpreparing, no one will be able to question your motivations and understanding of the issue.
- Be a beacon of patience and maturity. Others will expect you to be irresponsible and immature. Defy those expectations in order to gain ground.
- Don’t be afraid to address the issue. If someone is generalizing your perspective or questioning your capabilities as a by-product of your youth, address the issue head on. By bringing to light an individual's dismissiveness, you serve to hold them accountable for their words and actions.
As someone who began advocating on behalf of climate change at the age of 12, Margolin is well versed in how to push for change even if your age doesn’t afford you certain powers in society. She encourages her fellow peers to become familiar with the powers of lobbying and advocating for your future with your local, state, and federal governments. And while she acknowledges that lobbying as a citizen is really only a possibility in a democracy, she encourages her fellow activists to invest time and energy in learning the ins and outs of the practice because it is a critical tool to disrupt political complacency. Lobbying for the issues you care about reminds politicians that they work for the people, not for companies, and that their constituencies will hold them accountable. As Margolin writes: “If you are not already a voter, you are a future voter. If you are in an immigration situation or another hard place where you will not be given your right to vote any time soon, you have influence over voters around you...You have the power to make your community’s needs and your generation’s needs heard and considered by your government.”
Find Your Community
“The antidote to hopelessness is not just action but community.”
If there is one theme that rises to the surface continually throughout Youth to Power, it is the idea that you must build your community and draw others into your circle in order to actualize meaningful and sustainable progress. Part of this work is living out your shared goals and values in the organization or group you are a part of. Margolin stresses that you cannot fight for justice, fairness, and equity if you do not model those qualities with your colleagues in your community. Any infighting will only serve to blur your focus on your overall goals. Margolin acknowledges that there will always be differing opinions and perspectives, but encourages young leaders to embrace these moments and honor the voices of your peers. She also recommends the following tactics to ensure the functionality and cohesiveness of your team and organization:
- Don’t expect others to read your mind. If there is a conflict or an issue you feel you want to address with your team, do not assume everyone is on the same page. More, don’t expect your peers to know exactly what you are thinking; bring up your feelings with them so that you don’t waste any time festering over unaddressed problems.
- Invest in workshops, team trainings, and mediators. Ensuring that you and your colleagues have all the tools you need to be a productive team is crucial to the growth and success of your organization.
- Build a democratic process into your organization. By making sure that everyone has an equal opportunity to share their voice and vote on decisions, you will be ensuring equity in all aspects of your organization’s development.
- Assess the space you are organizing in. Sometimes it is important to reflect on whether or not the space, meaning either the location you are choosing to focus your work on or the particular area of interest within the issue you care about, is best suited for your capabilities as an activist. If you are struggling to understand where you fit in, then take some time to reflect on whether the space is right or if you can make greater gains and be more impactful elsewhere.
- Don’t let drama get in your way or discourage you. Plain and simple! There will always be problems to resolve either within your organization or your larger movement, don’t let the smaller issues discourage you from moving forward and making an impact.