In this op-ed, sophomores Sonia Chajet Wides and Kate Griem, both of Brooklyn, explain why they started the youth-advocacy website Teens Resist and why they believe youth engagement is so key.
It’s no secret that Gen Z is incredibly informed and opinionated. But we need comprehensive resources to turn our opinions into tangible action. That’s why we started Teens Resist, a platform that provides those resources in order to make political activism accessible to passionate youth in a world where their voices matter more than ever.
In publishing biweekly lists on our website that contain briefings and actions to take on topics in the news, Teens Resist hopes to make complicated issues easy to understand. The lists are practical, and made by and for teens. We also publish longer features, written by our core of staff writers or by contributing writers who have extensive knowledge of a particular issue, going deeper into particular issues, including DACA and net neutrality. We also use social media, such as our Instagram, for more frequent updates on current events, lists, and activism opportunities.
Teens Resist originated after the devastation so many experienced as a result of the 2016 election, us included. We were intoxicated by the possibility that the highest glass ceiling in America might finally be broken, and we campaigned relentlessly for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. When Donald Trump emerged as victor, becoming president, we saw in our peers the same intense concern and anger that we felt in ourselves. We had a strong conviction that if given the right resources, those emotions could become incredibly powerful as agents of change.
It first took shape when we created a Google Doc with a friend that listed resources we could use to contact representatives about early issues, like cabinet picks and the administration’s so-called Muslim ban. Sonia got to thinking: Maybe something like this doc could be helpful for her emotionally charged peers, too. Then, she thought: A Google Doc — well, why not a website? She designed the Teens Resist website, and the site launched in October 2017. Kate officially became co-director in March.
Resources like Teens Resist are important because it is imperative that youth are politically engaged. We have so many assets: a diverse demographic, the entire Internet at our fingertips, and wide-eyed optimism about the most complex of issues. Something is in it for us, too: The world shaped by politicians and activists now is the world where we will grow up. But it can be very daunting. Even if you have strong opinions and are very politically knowledgeable, America’s complicated, gargantuan political system is a lot to take on. Doing small things like calling or writing your representatives can seem futile, but in reality, these actions are very significant.
Time and time again, our peers have cited inconvenience, lack of access to resources, or a feeling of being overwhelmed as reasons to not be politically active. We want to show them that none of these reasons should prevent them from turning their passion into action. To this end, we focus on quick, easy, and accessible actions, such as calling (among other ways to get in contact with representatives — emails and comment pages, for example, if calling is too anxiety-producing).
Amy Rutkin, chief of staff for Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), tells Teen Vogue, “Members of Congress and elected officials want to do what they believe is representative of what their constituents want, and those calls and those letters and those emails tell us what people want.”
She explains that calling about a lesser-known issue can also move it up higher on your representative’s priority list. “When we see that tally at the end of the week, we say, ‘Huh, that’s interesting, I hadn’t heard about that — you better pay attention. Have we cosponsored that bill, what do we know about it, what do we have to learn about it?’” she says.
Here, we lay out how calling someone usually goes in our experience. Its relative simplicity should serve as a representation of the types of actions we usually give in lists.:
1. You find out about an issue and are determined to make a difference. Yay, passion!
2. You find/write a script that articulates your thoughts. See more on how to do that later on!
3. You decide who to call. This can vary issue by issue. For example, if you are calling about stopping the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, you might call the DAPL Hotline or the Department of Justice’s Environmental Division. If you’re calling to to voice your opinion on a bill in Congress, calling your senator or representative is your best bet.
We always include what the best number to call is with our scripts. When calling members of Congress, you should almost always call someone of whose district (or state, in the case of senators) you are a constituent. (According to Rutkin, constituents will always “take the highest precedence.”) Then you dial! Someone may or may not pick up. If they don’t pick up, leave a message using the script. When calling the Capitol switchboard (202-224-3121), you have to make a few choices about who to ask for, but the steps are very simple. Here is our basic script that can be used as a template for most topics: