My younger sister is lying on the couch across from where I’m writing this, loudly complaining of boredom.
For most fourteen-year-olds, this is a common occurrence. I know it certainly was when I was her age. Similar to unemployment, the first few weeks of summer are a relaxing, blissful affair, until the endless lethargy sets in. Once the joy of doing absolutely nothing faded, I would be left with a listlessness so profound it could only be cured by binge watching The X-Files.
Then I discovered volunteering. Finally, I had found a way to waste my days that involved being outside or working with my hands or talking to other living humans. The opportunities that were available at the Community Kitchen and the public library gave me such rewarding feelings because they gave me something to do.
It was through trying to explain volunteerism and it’s sudden impact on my life that I reached another, even more vital, subject: advocacy. What had begun as a fun afternoon spent slopping peas into trays became a recognition of words such as “food instability” and “cycle of violence.” This new language that volunteering exposed me to evolved into me explaining the “why” of what I was doing, instead of just the “what.” And knowing the “why,” along with the “how” and the “who,” enabled me to be not just another young volunteer, but an advocate. This is an important distinction for several reasons.
As with everything, there are both selfish and unselfish reasons why a teenager might get involved in the broad occupation of advocate. I found that there are many personally beneficial side effects of raising my voice, such as no longer being alone. Whether it is sharing my opinions on abortion laws or debating about the accessibility of my school’s bathrooms, my advocacy is not a private affair, but rather one that includes the point of view of a variety of people. Being an advocate opened up a much larger and more diverse community of change-makers than just volunteering ever could have. Advocating means getting a conversation started, and that means speaking, meeting, and befriending an entirely new and fascinating group of people.
Along with a community of teachers, public officials, and adults who supported my efforts to speak my mind came others who wanted to challenge them. This, too, is another semi-selfish result of advocacy. By not only supporting a particular cause, but letting the people around me know about it, I encounter those who question me on my beliefs. This only solidifies them, and makes my responses strong enough to be shared again. This is a public-speaking skill that will be tested all throughout my life, and one that I am thankful advocacy taught me early on.
Another reason young people are particularly essential to expanding advocacy efforts is because it can be one of the few areas in which our voice can truly be heard. We often feel ignored and unimportant by our schools or communities or parents, but that is because we have learned to stay silent when our voices should be loudest. There are adults who have the power to change teenagers’ lives, and who do truly want our opinions. After I began championing for what I believed in, I found those people who are not only willing to listen, but deeply invested in the lives of young people. Yet there still exists a disconnect between the two.
Whatever the personal, political, or public reasons a teenager may have, being involved in advocacy efforts is important. It is important to recommend a policy for the social interaction and networking connections that doing so forges. It is important to support a cause for the mental and emotional skills it builds for oneself. It is important to back a behavior for the actual change it sparks.
And, it is important for getting one’s sister off the couch and off to just do something.
– Josephine McCormick
Josephine McCormick is 17 and is a senior at Bloomington High School South. She has been actively involved in the Monroe County Youth Council for two years and is currently on the Leadership Team. She is also a part of the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) youth council.