Recently on the Standing on the Side of Love blog they featured a letter a young girl wrote to President Obama, asking him to help her city pass a non-discrimination act. Writing to the president was a class project, and the students were not told what to write about. According to the blog post most of the students asked what the president’s day was like, or how their dog was doing.
Activists are born. Activists function just a little differently than mos tpeople. There are so many thins I wish I had been told when I was just starting to get involved. This is the letter I desperately wish somebody had handed me in middle school, or even before.
Dear Wonderful Person,
You have already changed the world. Just by existing and being you you have made the world different and better, more beautiful and more fun. Don’t forget that – it’s VERY important!
Activism is wonderful, and it will change your life in hundreds and thousands of ways you never, ever though possible. You might find yourself speaking in front of thousands of people, or traveling across the country to talk to elected officials. You will sing some of the silliest songs you have ever heard, and do really embarrassing activities to get to know other people. That is all really, really important.
You will spend hours and hours stuffing envelopes and stapling papers and putting stickers and stamps and address labels on things. You will make hundreds of phone calls and sometimes never talk to a single person, and you will go door to door in neighborhoods near and far, sometimes getting lost and sometimes being ignored by people. You will sit at booths at state fairs and farmer’s markets and sometimes with you were on the Ferris Wheel instead of handing out stickers or asking people to sign petitions. That stuff is even more important. And you should always go on the Ferris Wheel anyway. The stickers and petitions can wait.
You will get to experience the excitement when you win a campaign. There is no way to describe the amazing feeling of winning a campaign, or seeing a bill pass, or watching the effects of your efforts pay off! And when you try to explain it to friends who aren’t activists they wont’ get it at all. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter, so try not to let them get you down.
And sometimes you will lose a campaign. Sometimes you will lose a lot of campaigns in a row and you may start feeling like you will never be part of a winning team. Change can be a really, really slow process, but know that even when you lose a campaign you have still made a difference. Pretend you are trying to cut a new path through a jungle. One person can’t do it alone; 10 people can’t do it alone, but if a lot of people keep working at it for a long time the path will get complete. Sometimes you can’t even seen where the jungle ends, but it always, always ends. Celebrate the fact that you made the path better, more open, even if you don’t find the end that time.
Once people find out that you want to help you might be asked to do a lot of stuff. It’s always, always totally fine to say, “no, thank you, not right now.” Even if you aren’t busy, even if you have the time, and even if it is something you care about more than anything else, you can say no. You can say no for a day, or a week, or a month, or a year. It is OK. Campaigns are won and lost by community, not by individuals. It’s never your fault if a campaign doesn’t win.
But don’t give up when you do lose. Look to the people around you who have been doing this for years. Let them comfort you when you lose, let them rejoice with you when you win, and let them help you figure out where to go and what to do next. Our elders have wisdom and advice way beyond what we may know. Listen and learn and grow from and with them. Don’t forget to speak up, though, when your voice needs to be heart. You have things to say and reasons to say them and your age doesn’t make those things any less important.
With all of that said, let me just say, “welcome!” Welcome to this super fast, super slow, sometimes boring, sometimes too exciting, and always always always changing world we call activism. We are happy to have you!
Keep fighting and keep believing,
I made the above letter into a PDF so you can print it out and give to the young activist in YOUR life who may need to hear those things. And this can be the activist who is young in age, young at heart, or simply new to a movement. Click the link below to download the PDF.