My First Time
Have you ever wondered what is “activism” exactly? You’re not alone. And, there are many answers. To show you how broadly the term could be interpreted, I asked the Care2 staff about their first time doing anything activist-y.
Not only are some of these stories hilarious, but they also show the broad range of ways to get involved, or become an “activist.” Some of my favorites include a song and dance troupe called “Children at the Teachers of Peace,” grade school letters to the President of United States, protests at Victoria’s Secret and a high school freshman advocating for accurate sex education at her school.
So…what was your first time?
When I was eight or nine, I wrote a letter to President Reagan asking him why he wouldn’t ban the use of nerve gas by the military. He never responded.
I remember when I was in 7th grade, I asked my high school history teach to talk privately with me about the way he discussed women in history. He was trying to be cool and get a lot of laughs, so he would callously talk about women’s mistreatment, rape culture, and really brutal historical events in a really light-hearted way. I was afraid he’d be mad at me, but he was so touched that I took the time to talk to him that it really made me feel empowered to keep standing up for what I thought and to keep making change.
When I was in college I started my first very first petition asking the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to remove an ad that victim-blamed rape victims. The campaign went pretty big in the press and I published a blog post about it on Feministing. I won — they removed the ad.
When I was 12 my 6th-grade class toured Greenpeace’s “Rainbow Warrior” and learned about whales and dolphins and efforts to protect them. I thought it was awesome. Then, my grandma called that night and told my mom she saw me on TV. That was the first time i thought about being an environmental activist.
When I was about 7, I learned that those 6-ring plastic things they put around canned drinks strangle wildlife. I became obsessed with them and told EVERYONE I knew they HAD to start cutting them up or they were animal killers. I still tell people about this all the time and I’m always surprised how few know they are a problem.
When I was in 3rd grade, my dad took me to a Bill Clinton rally when he was just a long shot governor no one knew during the primaries. I think I read a book most of the time. Later on, I helped my dad go door to door with the local dems’ GOTV pamphlets to help get Clinton elected. He said we could go to Baskin Robbins for ice cream if we delivered all the pamphlets in less than an hour. I remember running a lot. I think I got that ice cream.
When I was 10, I attended an elementary school lecture on cyber bullying. I answered a question at the end of the presentation, and the speaker invited me to go to Washington DC and speak in Congress to the House of Rep about cyber bullying with the “Teen Angels.” I spoke in DC about Megan Meier the 13yr old who committed suicide from cyber bullying. They gave me a free Webkinz because Webkinz was a proud supporter of cyber safety.
When I was in the 4th grade, I refused to say the pledge of allegiance (very complicated reasoning about not pledging to a symbol, dunno). My teacher wanted me suspended (I was living in the dark heart of Orange County and flags and obedience were taken very seriously). The principal negotiated a compromise where I was allowed to stand in silent protest. In the 7th grade, I instigated a very small anti-war sit-in. The Vice Principal was very…puzzled. He mainly had to deal with people on drugs and people blowing things up (which had escalated to a stick of dynamite in a rubbish bin during lunch).
My freshman year in high school a group of students made shirts supporting gay marriage and wore them to school. We got in trouble for it… because the teachers misunderstood and thought we were advocating for marijuana legalization. (Our protest language was apparently less clear than we thought it was…)
OMG… okay sort of embarrassing, but… I was a member of a song and dance troupe called Children as the Teachers of Peace. We performed in front of Kofi Anan and Nancy Reagan among other luminaries of the time like… one of the Dukes of Hazard and Marie Osmond.
I was in high school when we invaded Iraq, so I went to a bunch of anti-war rallies and protests. Later in college, a group of 10 or so of us planned to stage a protest at the Victoria Secret at the local mall (there were lots of reports that came out about the poor working conditions of manufacturers that supplied VS). We went to the store and read aloud the abuses while handing out fliers. I’m not very confrontational, so it pushed me out of my comfort zone, but it felt good.
When I was in 8th grade, a group of “concerned parents” were advocating that sex education should only be taught during the 12th grade, not the 9th & 12th grade as was currently being done. They didn’t want their children being promiscuous and thought this would prevent them from having sex. I was so upset at this illogical thought process that I got my parents to take me to the Board of Education meeting to speak my mind. When the time came for open comments, I stood up and pointed out that not teaching appropriate sex ed to young people wouldn’t stop them from having sex. It would only keep them from knowing how to be responsible when they did. I got my name in the paper for that one (so proud!), and I was taught my first sex ed classes in 9th grade the following year.
In the 11th grade, I was editor in chief of the year book and the principal wanted to have editorial control of all images and content (every page would have to be submitted to her for review). I looked up California laws and spoke with a students rights lawyer (this sort of censorship is illegal in CA, or it was at the time). When she insisted on having the control anyway, I went to the school board with my co-editor and the yearbook teacher to make our case. We won.
In middle school, my dad would have me do letter writing campaigns with him for Amnesty International. He would try to explain the issues to me, even though I was mostly just horrified. Freshman year I wanted to found a human rights club at my school because there was none and the woman in the office told me that was “too depressing” to be a club topic and refused to give me a form. I left and immediately scheduled a meeting with the principal and got the club started. It was pretty much 2 people the entire year, but whatever. 🙂 My mom was unaware that all this was happening, and when she found out (from a teacher) she goes “you’re a bit young to have such a problem with authority.” I pretty much wear that statement like a prize badge now.
When I was five the county decided to cut the budget for nurses in elementary schools. My mom and I went to the protest together. We tried to meet with the officials responsible for the cuts, but they refused to come out of the building and talk to us. That was my first labor organizing experience
- Protesting the boys not letting girls play football in the playground. I decided to disrupt their game by sitting down in the middle of it.
- Refusing to pledge my allegiance to God and the queen in Brownies (British girl guides) and being thrown out as a result.
- Getting my parents to take me to a protest against live animal exports that I’d heard about on the radio, at which I gathered all the leaflets I could, wrote to each animal welfare organisation and asked to be put on their mailing list. I then read and learned all the facts about each animal’s plight, and when I had hundreds of leaflets, filed each one away in a filing cabinet, A-Z by animal, which continued to build up for years.