As someone who was writing indignant letters to the editor at a very young age, I always get rather gleeful when I see young people getting involved in political and social processes. Especially teens, because we’re constantly being told that teens are apathetic slugs who lie around not doing anything, waiting for their parents to do all the work for them, and the last few months have furnished a spurt of fascinating political activism on the part of teens ... and people who are even younger.
Julia Bluhm is getting a lot of press for her call to Seventeen, asking them to stop airbrushing models. At 14, she says she wants to see more girls who look like her in magazines. Seventeen has remained mum on her plea for an unaltered photo spread (Julia, we’ve got you covered with the morning faces gallery!), but her petition did raise awareness of the fact that teens aren’t happy about their depiction in magazines, and hopefully that will lead to some positive changes in media overall.
She didn’t stop with an online petition, either: She took the protest to the magazine’s doorstep. That takes motivation and dedication, a far cry from the traits society usually assigns to teens. Go, Julia!
Listen up, Seventeen!
Meanwhile, Katy Butler is angry about the “R” rating slapped onto “Bully,” a documentary she argues should be screened in schools because it’s particularly relevant to young people. She says the MPAA needs better rules1 and isn’t satisfied with the offer of a private screening just for her; all teens, she argues, should have a chance to see it, including bullies and bullied alike.
The reason for the rating is strong language, which the director refuses to remove, and Butler supports him, because it’s integral to the story being told in the documentary. That “R” rating is a reflection of how ludicrous the ratings system is, because extreme violence wouldn’t be a problem, but language -- or a boob -- is.
Brittany Trilford asked adults to get it together on climate change to make sure there’s an Earth for future generations. While it might not be a petition, her speech is compelling, and debunks claims that teens aren’t articulate or capable of engaging in political and social issues. I hope she gets a chance to address attendees of the Earth Summit in Rio, because she’s going to bring the house down.
In other words, teens are pretty with it. And there might be a lot of reasons for that, which are worth exploring; like, the Internet has made it much easier to communicate, coordinate and organise. Many of these teens got traction because there were able to post online, work their social networks, and take advantage of platforms specifically designed for social activism that welcome people of all ages.
In some cases they were also supported by youth organising groups which focus on giving teens a voice and making sure adults shut up, sit down and listen; not just to teens talking about teen rights, but to teens talking about larger sociopolitical issues. These groups work hard to validate the voices of teens and make sure that they get distributed.
And maybe, just possibly, teens are more badass than we give them credit for.
For cuteness factor on your Friday, I’ll end with two stories about elementary school classes getting involved in direct activism. In San Francisco, a third grade class is protesting sea lion killings, complete with really adorable drawings:
Don't kill us!
Thanks to some public support across California and Oregon, the two states targeted by their activism, there’s an ongoing discussion about euthanisation of sea lions and continued exemptions from the Marine Mammal Protection Act. A third grade class did that!
Across the Bay in San Rafael, students are asking Crayola to get with the recycling already. While the well-known manufacturer of school supplies hasn’t budged yet, I think it’s only a matter of time, especially when the students make the delivery of their petition.
So yeah. I’ve got some hope for the next generation.
1. With you there, sister.Return