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My school shut down our anti-gun protest. This is what I learnt

Photo taken by 2017-2018 Rising Voices Fellow Rachel Harris at the NYC March for Our Lives

By Rachel Harris

April 19th was a day of highs and lows. During the day, school was abuzz. Everyone was talking about the next day’s school walkout (planned in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida) – whether they were going to do it, what they thought the punishments might be, if they were going to be in our local newspaper… My phone was on fire with texts from the organisers’ group chat. We planned to meet that day after school. We sat in the conference room, excitedly discussing who was bringing what, and writing the post for the Facebook event. I went home, giddy and anxious. My leg bounced under my kitchen table while I worked on my homework, my trademark nervous habit. I worried that no one would show up, or that everyone would get in trouble and blame me, or that it would rain really hard. My foot bounced faster. My phone dinged, bringing me out of my reverie.

Madison, one of the organisers, had texted the rest of us. Our assistant principal had called her in to talk. My foot stopped bouncing and my stomach twisted into a knot. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, reminding myself of why I organised the walkout in the first place: the shooting in Parkland had happened over a month ago, and no change had been made. We wanted to keep the momentum from the walkout a month earlier. The assistant principal could suspend us all if he wanted to; I didn’t care. This was something that I needed to do.

I got into my car and drove to school, where a few of the other organisers were waiting by the door. We walked upstairs, a united front. The five of us entered the assistant principal’s office in silence. The next two hours were painful to endure. We offered every possible solution, but were met with nothing but resistance. He threatened to call the police on us if we left the building, and to suspend anyone he saw doing a sit-in in the commons. My foot bounced incessantly and I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from crying. We all agreed that we couldn’t put people in a position where they had to choose between their morals and their futures. We had been pushed into a corner, and we had no choice but to cancel. To make matters worse, we couldn’t even cancel the walkout on our terms. Our assistant principal essentially wrote the Facebook post for us, unsatisfied with what we came up with ourselves.

We left his office worn out, our heads hung low. The rest of the night proceeded in a blur. I cried and cried, incredibly frustrated that something I believed to be so important, and that I had put that much work into, could be torn away so easily. We come to school every day to learn, not just about algebra and biology, but about ourselves, and about how we can actively contribute to our democratic society.

The entire movement following the Parkland shooting was centered around lifting the voices of students, and within mere instants, that power had been stripped away. As a sixteen year old, it is incredibly easy to feel powerless – I can’t vote, and I am under the control of my parents and the administration of my school pretty much all the time. This lack of power is exacerbated by the fact that adults often write teenagers off as unintelligent and unqualified. The way my assistant principal spoke to us was the perfect example: he told us that while he was sure we believed what we were doing was just, he (as an adult) believed we were being naive.

This ageism isn’t specific to just my school or my assistant principal – it’s something I experience every day. People love to hear that I’m involved in political activism, but then they talk both down to and over me when I try to voice my opinion. They question the validity of my research, and often leverage their age against me in arguments. With the walkout, we had decided to bypass the system in the hopes that our passion would prevail. However, when we were shut down so quickly and easily, it became incredibly clear that when you exist in an unfair system, it is sometimes impossible to overcome it. Often I have no choice but to work within the bounds of such systems because of my age and my gender.

Thinking back on this experience, it’s easy to let myself get upset. The situation was handled so poorly, and that isn’t any easier to grapple with now than it was a month ago. However, I have realised that even though we didn’t get to follow through with the originally intended walkout, what occurred instead was just as important – we started a conversation.

My peers talked amongst themselves about what meaningful activism looks like and about what common sense gun control means to them. My mom met with my assistant principal and presented him with some tough questions, like whether or not he was using his power in a productive way; this started a conversation among the parents and administration about how adults treat teens.

Perhaps most importantly, I started a conversation with myself. How do I define success? How can I reconcile the passion of my peers with my school’s hesitancy to support student-led initiatives? What am I going to do next time? While the plan for the walkout may never have come to fruition, it taught me something important – you can’t win every time, and when you don’t, it’s imperative you use the loss to grow and adapt, instead of letting it define you.

This article was originally published on Jewish Women, Amplified, the blog of the Jewish Women’s Archive, and was written as part of the Rising Voices Fellowship

Powered By Girl, the book!


By Yas Necati

Hi, I’m Yas, editor here at the Powered By Girl blog. When I first started calling myself a feminist, I was 15. It was confusing, inspiring, life-changing – as you can imagine. I began to campaign with, and make friends with, a lot of people who were a lot older than me. Some people thought this was weird, but it taught me something really valuable; when we work across generations, we learn so much more. There’s power in intergenerational communities.

Around the same time I labelled myself a feminist, I reached out to an online community that I’d come across through googling “teen feminism” on the Internet. This community was called the SPARKmovement, and through connecting with them, I began writing for Powered By Girl. I met someone called Lyn Mikel Brown, an older feminist who became like a mentor to me, and 5 years later, we’re still working together on PBG.

Lyn’s one of the wonderful co-founders of this website, and she made me feel at home as an activist. It was pretty daunting as a teen to step into a community I knew nothing about. At first I felt young and silly, but a year on, when Lyn interviewed me for her book – also called Powered By Girl – I felt confident, welcome and even like my voice and my actions could make a difference to the issues I cared about.

As well as working with Lyn to write for PBG, I started campaigning too. I learnt a heck of a lot from the people I campaigned with, mostly because they showed me how to campaign effectively by treating me as an equal member of the team. When I was 16, I started campaigning for No More Page 3. I was the youngest team member, the oldest was in her 50s, and I really believe the campaign was as successful as it was because we learnt from one another, and reached out to people of all different ages to get involved. It was a revelation being on that team because I was treated and respected equally to everyone else, whereas in most spaces I would have been dismissed because I was still a teenager. No More Page 3 made me feel welcomed and supported, and this helped me gain confidence as an activist. After all, how many other mainstream campaigns do you know of that would take a 16-year-old onto their main organising team?

I think the best thing about the teams at No More Page 3 and Powered By Girl was that they trusted me, respected me, and treated me like an equal, rather than trying to tell me what to do. I can’t speak on behalf of any other young people, but I for certain know that I’ve never liked people who think that just because they’re older, they understand everything better than I do. I think if at 15, the adults I’d met had tried to lecture me/act as if I was naïve compared to them, I would have shunned away from the movement. Instead I was lucky enough to meet people who were much more experienced, but didn’t treat me like I was immature in spite of this. Instead they used their skills, knowledge and networks to bring me into the community and support me to make my own decisions as an activist, by having faith that I could.

PBG is a perfect example of this. Powered By Girl is a community of 13-22 year old activists, supported by a few adults who overlook everything, and support us along our activist journeys. Powered By Girl has always been about us, the young women. From the moment I started writing for them I knew that our voices were central, and from the moment I took over as editor I knew that our choices as young women would be respected, and it was up to us how we shaped the organisation, what we wrote about, and what we wanted to get across.

This year I turned 20, and it feels really strange not being a teenager any more. For the first time, I feel like one of those adults who might be meeting teen feminists, and I’m not sure I’m prepared for that. I’ve started reflecting on how I was supported, and how I can offer this support to young activists. I often look back and wonder how Lyn made me feel so included and empowered when we first met 5 years ago. I take inspiration from her when I say that intergenerational activism is about supporting and respecting each other, showing not telling, and sharing what we know with others, generously and with kindness.

I’m really proud that I could be a small part of her new book “Powered By Girl: A field guide for supporting youth activists”. The thing about Lyn is that she’s always showed young people different opportunities, rather than trying to tell them what to do. It’s scary thinking that soon, or even now, I might be meeting teen activists, and in the same position tat she was when we first met. I don’t think I could do as good a job as she did at supporting me. But at least I’ll have her book to help!

“Powered By Girl: A field guide for supporting youth activists” is published by Beacon Press. You can buy it here: http://www.beacon.org/Powered-By-Girl-P1228.aspx

I won’t be Jumping on the Brand-Wagon


By Cora Morris

“It is an incredible time to be alive.”:

A phrase that seems to flash across my brain all the more frequently at the moment, in quiet moments of humbled acknowledgement. Indeed I see it elsewhere too. It’s chucked around incessantly at rocket launch after rocket launch, called out when another medical breakthrough hits the headlines. With each and every flashy new gadget, we are reminded of the wonders of human achievement, and it is brilliant. I am as glad of these things as the next person, they delight me. But, in all truthfulness? (more…)

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