The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
In 2015, Greta Thunberg held up a sign that read “School Strike for Climate” in front of the Swedish parliament building every Friday.
After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018, hundreds of thousands of students joined the March for Our Lives.
I attended a Black Lives Matter protest in my small town back in June, where many young people lined the streets with fists raised and poster boards reading “Rest in Power.”
Millennials and Gen Z are paving a way for the changes they wish to see in their lifetimes. Though I technically was born between those generations, I can see that this desire for change stems from the time that's passed with no reform, the evolving nature within us all, and the passions we each possess. However, with constant fervor and the visual representation of our efforts comes inevitable backlash. Sometimes, that backlash is aimed at extinguishing young people’s fire, which can strip us of our will to vote. But if the past has proven anything, it’s that young people persevere – it’s more important than ever to keep the fight up and make our voices heard.
Don’t let disagreement discourage you
Disagreement is not an inherently negative thing, but it can become one if we allow it to douse our flames.
“It never gets easier having people disagree — especially when it comes to human rights issues like trafficking and/or racism,” says Elise Navarro, a senior at Colorado Christian University. “The best thing that I’ve learned to do is to remain calm, listen, and then with all the research and knowledge I have from fighting these injustices, offer them an answer. Another tip I’ve taught myself is to know when to fight your battles.”
Some people refuse to budge on their beliefs, and others refuse to even listen, but when someone doesn’t see eye to eye on an issue, don’t let it discourage you. Listen to what the other individual is trying to communicate – it may even prove enlightening for you in one way or another – but don’t give up on your beliefs just like that. Use what the other individual says to further your awareness, and take the opportunity to educationally counter the other side. Most importantly, continue to learn and fight for revision.
And remember, disagreement can sometimes morph into attacks when each individual is attempting to get the upper hand. Learn to recognize when your views are no longer being healthily challenged, and stop the conversation before it escalates even more.
Don’t let impatience get the best of you
One of the most difficult elements of change is time. Change isn't an overnight thing, and because there is no set schedule for change, it can be daunting.
“It’s actually quite easy to want to give up on change, simply because change is a process,” says Gillian Day, a senior at Azusa Pacific University. “Especially in the case of racial injustices, people are forced to endure hardship before seeing the fruit of change. For an impatient person like myself, that has been a big reason why I’ve felt discouraged in my ability to make change or see it happen.”
Camille Reyes, another Azusa Pacific University senior, shared the same sentiment while waiting for change. “Hearing terrible stories again and again, and trying to educate myself, and trying to make a difference gets tiring,” she says. “Because things seem to stay the same, people feel a sense of numbness to the news they hear because it feels normal to hear awful stories.”
However, time in itself is not the answer to change, but the commitment you establish during that process. In the meantime, Day suggests you “embrace the small victories because, ultimately, they're what make up the bigger picture.”
Don’t take away your own voter power
Our biggest obstacle is sometimes ourselves. While we keep adding fuel to the fire (as we should), that passion is useless unless you put it into action. One of the most impactful ways to use your power as a citizen is to vote. When you vote for what you believe in, you've defied the odds of all the hindrances that tried to sway you. Your vote is the gateway to change. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to vote, especially as a millennial or Gen Z.
Young people haven’t always shown up to the polls in the past. In 2018, 49.1% of 18 to 24-year-olds were registered to vote, but only 32.4% actually voted.
“We all need to make our voices heard, so that difference can be made in our government,” says Reyes. “Although the upcoming election feels like the 2016 election where we had to pick the lesser of two evils, I think it’s important we still go out and vote.”
With this urgency, some people might be guilty of giving up too soon. Voting can be time consuming and requires effort. Sometimes we are unsure of where to register, of deadlines and where to vote. Or even worse, we think our vote won’t make a difference. But most young people are already doing the hard part. Young people across the nation have been pouring out into the streets, utilizing social media to reach others, are getting involved with various political movements and are researching new and old information.
“To advocate for change, I’ve chosen to start within my own home, which is something I feel is valuable and often overlooked,” says Day. “I engage in meaningful conversations with my parents, and educate my younger siblings on topics they are not typically exposed to. Additionally, I'm thankful to be able to donate, utilize social media platforms, and share resources with others.”
“I've been advocating for change in terms of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Yemen Crisis, the Palestine Conflict and the Philippine’s Junk Terror Bill,” says Reyes. “I’ve been advocating for change by first educating myself. Once I understand, I look for petitions to sign and ways to donate. Then I share the information I find via social media and discuss the issues with my family and friends.”
Value what you want to see change in, and don’t let the arduous journey dictate what you stand for and what you fall for – because change will never come if we don’t persist. “One of my favorite quotes is from William Wilberforce," says Navarro. ‘“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.’” That's enough to remind yourself about the good work you're doing, and that can be extended by getting yourself to the polls and making your vote count.
So register to vote, and keep your fire ablaze come November.