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Young, not clueless

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By Bex Dudley

I need to preface this with a disclaimer. I am a white Brit and, for those reasons, this is not my story to tell. However, I am telling this because I am also a queer young person. My queerness means I feel at least a little of the pain the world is experiencing; my status as a young person, as I’ll explain later, is the reason I am writing this at all.

I want to tell you about the US Election Night as experienced at my uni.

I want to tell you about the weeks preceding. The Student Union at my university- a prestigious social and political sciences institute – decided to hold an event. Though we are, technically, an English university, holding this event was never questioned; partly because we have a high number of US students, partly because we are, by nature, all interested in politics and society; partly because why wouldn’t we hold an event? Of course we would.

Tickets to the event sold like wildfire. Often, the SU events are able to sell tickets on the door- but the Facebook page for this event informed us that this wouldn’t be an option, as capacity had already been reached. In the days before the event, that same page was filled with people trying to get tickets; they were selling for double the price on the day of the event. People were desperate to go to this – because we had all followed the build up, we all wanted to watch, to the second, what happened.

I want to tell you about the gathering we had- the ‘party’, as we called it – up until about halfway through the night. I wasn’t able to get a ticket for the SU event but, due to high interest, my accommodation- like many of the other accommodations at the university- held their own event.

We turned up for 9pm GMT, around 20 of us, probably more, with food and drink and blankets, ready and eager to watch. The atmosphere was good; we were happy, full of laughter and jokes. We cycled through the different news stations, banning Fox outright and eventually settling (somewhat dubiously) on CNN. At the SU, they had official political analysers; in halls, we picked each other’s brains, asking questions and debating answers.

We’d all done our research: we knew which states were important, and we knew how it was going to go. Ohio and Florida were key, we kept saying; and Hillary would get both of them. Of course she would. We had no doubt.

I don’t want to say what happened next.

I don’t want to tell you how the atmosphere slowly changed, as we realised that Trump was beginning to take Florida. We stopped asking questions, we stopped talking about much at all. Everyone had their phones out, looking for the latest statistics and percentages, trying to get up-to-the-second news, messaging people who might know a little more. I myself messaged people I knew at the SU. They said that the atmosphere there was similar- tense, sad, worried.

I don’t want to tell you what it felt to be like in a room full of a plethora of people, all of whom had their own reasons for dreading what was beginning to feel inevitable. The room was both still and restless; some people went to bed, or said they did- maybe it was just to get out of that room. People came back from their various nights out. One friend came back from a club, slightly tipsy- suddenly sober and full of disbelief when he looked at the screen. To one side of the room, a man in a smart suit rested his head in his hands, whilst the woman next to him paced up and down, swearing. That’s an image that will never leave me.

I don’t want to tell you how it felt to message my sleeping girlfriend, to try and break the news in a way that might not hurt too much. I found myself fixatedly scrolling through Twitter, watching as all the sadness and hurt and anger came spilling out. Having been up the whole night, the world seemed unreal- I chose to go to bed, feeling that conversation in lectures would revolve around one thing only, and that I couldn’t face that yet. I woke up at 2 in the afternoon, and that’s when it began to hit me – a heaviness, an emptiness.

I do not want to tell you how the next few days were: how it felt to watch the people I love and admire cry and hurt and rage. The people I consider strong, my rocks- they were all hurting too. There was no one to stand up and say this is what we do because there was too much emotion to do that, and, at that time, any suggestion of what to do seemed either impossible or pointless. The world, as we knew it, had collapsed: because, within that one night, everything we have been fighting became legitimised.

Back to the things I want to tell you. I want to take a step back. I want you to know three things.

Firstly, everyone in my account of the US Election- the people at the SU, the people in my halls, the countless stories I encountered on Twitter- were people incredibly invested in this election. Many people were incredibly academically clued up- Americans interested in their political system, politics students, economics students, social sciences students. Many more were socially clued up, painfully aware of the effects a Trump win would have for them- people of colour, migrant people, queer people, disabled people, every intersection of these.

Secondly, though I know that there would most likely have been Trump supporters, neither myself nor anyone I know came into contact with them. The change in the atmosphere both in my halls and in the SU strongly show that these were people who did not support Trump. The stories I saw on Twitter were anti-Trump.

Lastly, I want you to know that the majority- or, more likely, all- of those people could be classified as ‘young people’.

These three facts are important because, a few days after the election I saw a comment on Facebook, from someone claiming that ‘young people don’t have a clue’, the context of which implied that young people who didn’t want Trump to win didn’t have a clue. I am pretty thick-skinned. I can deal with a lot of things on social media- but this comment made me angry, because my experiences were so strongly the opposite.

I want to tell you that that comment is wrong. I want to tell you that I was surrounded by incredibly clued up young people, young people who academically or socially- or, most often, both– were incredibly aware of what was going on. I want you to know that these people were faced with the facts, and that, though I cannot speak for them all, overall, they strongly didn’t want Trump.

I need you to know that.

Powered By Girl, the book!

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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

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