When Do You Stop Fighting For What's Right With Adults?

A frank discussion on being a teen activist in a world where “we aren't old enough”.

I’m sure many teens can relate to feeling discouraged by adults when there is an opportunity to create social changes within a community. It's a universal struggle that we, as teen activists, must endure and question how much authoritative support matters. Danielle Leard and Breia Gore are two incredibly talented Lithium writers who provided their input on this topic. Throughout this interview, they gave their own personal stories, advice, and solutions on tackling an environment that is constantly undervaluing your social activism.

How do you deal with disagreeing with adults about their political stance?
DL: Two years ago, I couldn't. And I didn't, without stomping out of the room fuming. But through joining a speech and debate team, I've learned how to argue politely. First, ask the adult questions to further understand their position and why they believe what they do. Then, I softly present my alternative opinion. When talking about politics and beliefs, there is always a personal aspect or motive. Most people aren’t out to hate others. Understanding the personal and emotional motives to a person’s beliefs is key to making your opposing position appealing.

BCG: In my personal situations with disagreeing with adults about politics, I always pause and consider their upbringing. The generations above us were raised differently. They were not thrown into a world where everybody has different opinions about everything. They are usually intimidated by our stance because nobody has ever told them they are misinformed. And it is not that they are just close-minded individuals, sometimes, it is just because they are ignorant. So, from this, I use nothing but facts. I avoid using the words “personally”, “I think”, or just in general “I”.  If I pull up sources, news articles, percentages--this has more effect than just sharing moral opinions. Knowledge has nothing to do with age, and you have to show them that.  I think you’ll find more respect that way with adults than just attempting to convince them.

In what ways has these disagreements affect your relationship with that person/group of people?
DL: For me, it honestly depends on the person and how willing they are to open up their mind. I’m fortunate enough to have pretty chill parents, for the most part. I get along with most adults despite how much I disagree with them, because I’m usually soft with my approach. The truth is, we both know things the other person doesn’t. I don’t want to let these opinions affect our relationships negatively. I can definitely say I am a lot wiser, learning why my elders believe what they believe.

BCG: Although I come off pretentious or as the “I always have to have the last word” type of person when it comes to politics, I think it is for the better. These disagreements have shown me who and who should not be in my personal circle, because they would just bring me down. I am from a small town in the south, so (some) of the people I encounter down here have complete opposite opinions than me. My parents -- an odd situation. My mother voted independent, and my father voted republican. Though, they know I am active in marches, rallies, and any situation where I can stand up. I even got my father to say that he “liked Bernie Sanders”. They respect this, and I think it makes them a little proud.

When do you stop fighting for what's right?
DI: That is a really tough question. Again, it depends what it is for me. Is it something I could do without? Is it something really close to my heart? Obviously, my willingness to fight over something is going to vary a lot. But I think, on an individual level, I usually stop fighting for what I believe is right once I realize the conversation is unproductive. Once I realize neither of us are opening the other’s mind at all, and we’re just getting angry, then, well, it is time to stop.

BCG: My first response to this question was, “That’s silly, you should never stop fighting for what’s right”. Not if it affects you negatively, not if violence ensues, not if you have to march in a thunderstorm or call up your local representatives every Saturday morning, telling them your views. I think I stand with that. I am a very persistent person, as long as I know I am fighting for at least one other person and not just for me, I’ll do anything. If the other person is at a standstill, I’ll respectfully keep going past them.

Do you allow yourself to be open minded about other political views?
DL: I like to think yes. Some specific beliefs I cannot stand for being violated, but regarding most politics nowadays, yes. I attribute this to the fact that I’m still learning what my beliefs even are. It’s difficult to draw a lot of lines, especially when I am as privileged as I am.

BCG: I allow myself to be open-minded about everything. There are different ways different people were brought up. Sometimes our political views don’t match up because they were raised in a religion since birth that I haven’t the slightest idea about. Or, a woman had a miscarriage and had to see her child in that state, and that is why she is against abortions. It’s brutal, but you can’t walk around shouting your opinions without sympathy for others. Though I am pro-choice, I would look the women in the eyes and say, “I understand, I’m sorry. I know you don’t want this pain for any other woman, but you are not those women." That may seem contradictory, but overall, I am saying that you must be open-minded, but still stand with yourself.

If not,  how does being grounded in your opinion affect discussions about political views you disagree with?
BCG: Being grounded in your opinion is, obviously, something you need to do. If you do not have a solid opinion, then what are you fighting for? Which side are you on? Though, if it comes to not wanting to be open minded during discussions, you are not going to get very far. The conversation will just loop back around and never get anywhere. That is not what we are aiming for.

How does the re-enforcement of the phrase “you're not old enough” affect the ways you pursue your social activism?
DL: First, I ask why. This tends to stump most people who charge me with this, and they bluff. My opinions can be just as valid as yours. Oh, I’m not old enough to you? I’ll show you what I can do. I’ll show you what this generation has to offer. You’ve got to be kidding me when you imply that you have never craved change or moral stability as a young person. Yes, I understand that some issues I cannot fully comprehend because of my youth. But that terminology cannot be used to shut down activist pursuits.

BCG: Honestly, I usually agree with them. Though, let me explain. I know I am young, I am barely twenty, and there is still a lot for me to learn. But, that doesn’t automatically dissolve all that I have already learned. That does not affect my morals, my knowledge, or my eagerness to prove you wrong. I can see where they are coming from, I look at fourteen-year-olds and think about all the things they still have to learn because they are so young, still. On the other hand, I know that there are fourteen-year-olds out there who could outsmart me. It’s not the phrase “you’re not old enough”, it’s the phrase “you don’t know me well enough”. And then you pursue your social activism with all you’ve got buried in the growing little mind.

If not, are there any factors that have made you doubt your activism due to your age and presumed lack of authority?
DL: Definitely. Some issues I can’t understand because I’m young. It took me a little while to understand this. But I think every young person has the right to think for themselves, and to act on it, too. Here in the United States, it is the FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHT. I doubt my political positions all of the time. But I will continue to fight for what is right, because how else will I learn?

BCG: When it comes to authority, I’ve gotten much better. I was raised to not talk about “those subjects” too often, because I was A) a woman and B) too young. When I realized that none of that mattered, I realized my authority was based on how I presented myself, not how others saw me. I gave myself my own authority. Sometimes, I doubt that I actually don’t have any knowledge about any issues and what I’m doing is silly because I’m just a teenager doing what every other teenager is doing. Then, I realized that was a phoney excuse. We’re all doing this for a reason. We’re all doing this because we want respect through activism.

How can we change this pattern from affecting youth today pursuing activism at much earlier ages?
DL: Activism is very tricky. I would start with educating, foremost. Encouraging young people to keep up with the news, asking elders about past political experiences, etc. Get informed about the world, and weigh what is important and what can take a backseat. Educate.

BCG: We can change this pattern by proving that activism works, encouraging people to fight against wrongs, and showing the wide range of people going to protest. The last protest I went to had everybody from toddlers to older veterans. This is for everybody, and young people have voices. The youth today is what everybody has their eyes on, believe it or not. Decide what to do with that.  

How do you keep yourself motivated to continue being an advocate for basic human rights?
DL: It is pretty hard to define what our “basic human rights” are. (And the government’s role in that.) That said, mainly, my religion. I am personally a Christian, and one of the most pressing messages preached throughout the Bible is to love. Not as a feeling, but as an action. Love your neighbor as you would love yourself. When people are calling for help, listen to them. Aid them. Stand with them. If nothing else, lend your ear to understand them.

BCG: I keep myself motivated by thinking about privilege, and how I am so. I am living in America with a growing education, with more than enough food at every meal, with a room full of material items. I never doubt whether or not I am going to be able to get my health needs filled. My relationship is never going to be slandered. There are problems rooted in those, but I am motivated by those who have nothing in any of those subjects. I have a voice, and I am going to use my chance to speak for those who do not, who are too scared, who could never even fathom arguing with the government because they would get slaughtered. Women without education, people born into names they do not want anymore, people who have their health stolen from them. These are the basic human rights I stand for.

What is an alternative you can provide for adults who are suppressing teen activism?
DL: Walk a mile in our shoes. Think back to when you were a teenager. What you wanted. How you felt when you couldn’t get it. Do you feel like there’s a reason you didn’t get what you wanted? Explain that to us. Please don’t just put us down, because we are not going to listen without reason. You have lived more than us. Tell us how to fight a good fight, and don’t put us down.

BCG: Everything you are doing now, is going to affect us when we are your age, and you are long gone. The choices you are making are for your children, us. We are trying to fight so we do not end up in the rubble, do not suppress us even more. Find a subject that you both agree can be fought against (however small -- hunger in foreign countries, or large -- presidency). Take that and work together, work with us--not against us. That is all we want.

What is some advice you can provide to teens who feel like the adults surrounding them aren't encouraging them to learn more about social justice and become leaders themselves?
DL: The most valuable lesson I have learned thus far is to understand the other side. Try to understand that adults probably aren’t out to get you. They just believe what they believe as strongly as you do. Be empathetic, and be KIND. Don’t let your message of what you are standing up for get lost in all the noise. You’re smart, and you care. Capitalize on that, and remember what you are fighting for.

BCG: You don’t need these adults to encourage you. You do not need their validation to become a leader. It may seem that you will never be able to get away from the opinions of your parents, your elders, the people you do not entirely agree with, but you can simply get away by saying “no”. Start there, start your social justice there. Kindly disagree. Search online for petitions you can sign to help causes you want to support (they are always free), find the people at your school who know what it is like to be shunned because of their opinions. If you are old enough, finding volunteer services or peaceful marches to attend is always a good response. You can learn everything you need to know just from your phone. Finally, do not intentionally be unkind to these adults who do not want you to be a “social justice warrior”, their intentions are usually to protect you. Start slow, know your message, fight.

Interviews by Natalia Mercedes Rodriguez

1 comment

  1. I'm honored to have been apart of this. Such provocative questions!