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Young people are capable of more than posting on social media, activists say

Katrina Popovich, Saida Dahir and Jaime Mongolin stand together after being panelists in Young Women Leading Change: Three Activists Forging a New Future Vision in Gore Auditorium on Tuesday, March 3. The activists said young people are leading today’s cultural and political movements. (Gwenna Salazar)

Jamie Margolin, Saida Dahir and Karina Popovich are young, female activists. The women told audience members that youth are leading modern political and cultural movements at the Young Women Leading Change: Three Activists Forging a New Future Vision in Gore Auditorium on Tuesday.

Felecia Maxfleid Barrett, Executive Director of the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy, said her organization brought the three panelists to Westminster not only to celebrate international women’s month, but the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment.

Isabelle Allen, first-year environmental science major and local activist, said the panel was inspiring and she is proud of each of the three women.

“I am glad I came,” she said. “It’s really amazing to hear their accomplishments.”

Joining the Cause

Jamie Margolin, an 18-year-old climate change activist, said she can’t afford to wait until she is old enough to become a politician. At that point, she said the climate crisis would have reached a point of no return.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” she said. “We’re on an incredibly, incredibly short timeline.”

Margolin created Zero Hour, an international group of climate activists, to join the fight against the climate crisis. She said she felt obligated to do so, because her generation’s future is at stake.

“What scares me isn’t what the environment does to people,” she said. “What scares me is what people do to each other when times are hard and resources are scarce.”

Although young people know the threats of the climate crisis, they don’t know how to be activists because no one is teaching them, Margolin said. That’s why she wrote a guidebook on young activism with a forward written by someone her work has inspired: Greta Thurnberg. It will be available in June.

“I fight for my environment, my future, and the world,” she said. “Hopefully I can inspire others to do the same.”

More than Social Media

Katrina Popovich is a first-year student at Cornell University, working to bring STEM access to underrepresented groups. Popovich also runs a 3D printing company that has a clothing line designed to empower girls.

The skills of young people are not being properly used, Popovich said.

“Us young people are hungry for opportunities,” she said. “We know what’s going on, and we want to work hard, but we aren’t getting the chances.”

Popovich said older people should be helping young activists.

“Give us opportunity and show us you believe in us,” she said.

Activism should be intergenerational, according to Jamie Margolin. Now more than ever, young activists are being seen as valid by older generations, she said.

“March For Our Lives was a turning point for youth activism,” she said.

Despite those in power becoming more comfortable with young activists, Margolin said they still do not provide support, resources, or funding.

Saida Dahir, a published poet and student at the University of California, Berkeley, added that including young voices only when it’s time to make a social media post is insulting.

“Don’t tokenize youth,” she said. “We can understand politics and memes. We can be more than one thing. It’s a backhanded compliment to use young people for selfies.”

Dahir encouraged other young people to become aware of politics and get involved.

“Young people are leading these movements, and we’re going to change the world,” she said. 

Facing Barriers

All three activists have dealt with biases and systematic barriers due to their age and gender, they said.

Saida Dahir, a Somali-American Muslim, said she has also seen a drastic lack of representation of people who look like her in everything: from news media to history books to Hollywood.

When asked for one phrase to explain her biggest barrier, Dahir said “institutions.”

“So many institutions are working against us people of color,” she said. “Our stories are important.”

Katrina Popovich said she is working against the bias of her male peers, but also her own internalized bias. When asked about her biggest barrier, Popovich said “myself.”

“We [women] are strong,” she said. “We are good at what we do. I’m good at engineering, and I don’t need to be modest–men wouldn’t be modest.”

Dahir said young people need to create new spaces for their narratives, even if it isn’t easy.

“You’re important and you’re valid, but your fear aside,” she said.  “If they don’t let you come to the table, bring a folding chair.”

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Gwenna Salazar
Gwenna Salazar is an honors communication student in her final year at Westminster. She is excited to spend another semester as the online and social media manager working alongside a great team. When she isn’t on campus, Gwenna loves critically consuming media, being outside, and snuggling her cat, Bruja. After graduation she hopes to forge a fulfilling career in public relations, leaving time on the side for adventures.

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