YA author, Adi Alsaid, shares his Advice for teen activists
"Get back up and continue the fight. We need you."
The post below was kindly written by Adi Alsaid, author of We Didn’t Ask For This.
Author’s note: There’s an obvious omission of anything COVID-19 related in my answers below. I still believe all of what I wrote applies in the world of the current crisis, and when normalcy—whatever the new normalcy will be—returns. But for the sake of giving you something to read that doesn’t talk about Coronavirus, I’m writing as if everything is still the same.
Fight for what you believe in
One of the central questions in We Didn’t Ask For This is how do we get others to care about the things we care about? And one of the answers is to fight. Not with violence, but with disruption. Is it always effective as a persuasive tool? No. But does it make people turn their heads? Yes, especially if the disruption is in relation to something others care about.
Don’t listen to adults who say you’re just an idealist
It’s frustrating to me when people throw the word ‘idealist’ around like it’s an insult. I understand where it comes from, at least I think so: former idealists whose idealism has not come to fruition. The fact of the matter is that our idealism rarely pans out the way we envision. Adults, if I can throw out a new definition, are just people whose idealism has been beaten slowly out of them by life’s many challenges. I have an adult character in We Didn’t Ask For This who at one point wonders what happened to the inflamed passions of her youth, what happened to all the big actions she wanted to take but never did. Some adults (see below) will turn this regret into admiration for your actions. Others will scoff, and denigrate you as an idealist.
Be prepared for things to not go exactly as you want them to. Be flexible, sure. But it is Greta Thunberg’s idealism which has led to change. It was the Parkland students’ idealism which enacted laws. Are things exactly how they should be? No. Don’t let that strip away your idealism the way our idealism as adults has been stripped away. Discouraging idealism leads to discouraging action, and we need your action.
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Find the adults willing to guide you without taking the mic away
Unfortunately, this world is run by adults. And while the jerks I mentioned above are everywhere, so are those who want you to get your way. There are gatekeepers who want to help show you the way, and they have the experience to know what to do, the resources to help you accomplish what you want, the connections that you might lack simply because you haven’t been on this planet as long or met as many people.
Whenever one of my favorite podcasts, How Did This Get Made? does a live show, host Paul Scheer goes out into the audience to get questions from those in attendance. Invariably, someone reaches for his microphone. It’s a pretty natural reaction, I think, and even among those adults who want to help you, there’ll be those who unconsciously reach to take the microphone away. Be like Paul Scheer, and say, “I’ll hold the mic.” Find the adults who want to guide you, but be wary of the mic grabbers.
When writing We Didn’t Ask For This, I met an environmental professor who’s been fighting against the issues revolving around climate change since the eighties. In her words, decades’ worth of work have been undone in the last few years of the current US administration. When asked if that made her want to give up hope, she responded, “If I don’t have hope, what do I have?”
Giving up hope is the path of least resistance, and when setbacks occur, it’s tempting to wallow in hopelessness. It’s like heartbreak after a break-up. Don’t deny that you feel it, but don’t let it keep you tethered to your bed in inaction. Get back up and continue the fight. We need you.
Limit time on social media
At the risk of dipping into old-man-yelling-at-kids-on-his-lawn territory, I believe that there’s a limit to the good social media can bring to an issue. Yes, there is a way to spread the word for your cause online. It gathers more like-minded people, can create awareness, etc. So I’m not saying to stop using it entirely. But people are at their loudest online, and regardless of whether or not they are shouting about things you agree with, all that noise is not good for your mental health. Limit yourself to an hour (or some other specific, measurable chunk of time) of shouting about your cause, arguing with others, posting articles and meet up events, or whatever it is that’s crucial to your cause. Then disconnect.