What do I expect from myself now? That thought popped into my head in recent months, while reflecting upon what’s been happening politically in our country (and around the world). I have been staying more informed than ever before, and with that has come a desire to do more. To use my knowledge, voice, and time to make a positive impact. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been feeling this way.
In response to my initial question, I decided to put together a list of possible actions I could take—and share them with you. This list is by no means 100% comprehensive, and I would love to hear any additions you have in the comments below. I kept in mind and noted any limitations there may be in regards to age. Another bonus: for some of these, you don’t have to stray far from right where you are: the Internet. With that, let’s jump in!
Stay Informed. First and foremost, it’s important to understand what’s going on. A great starting place is theSkimm, a free daily (Monday through Friday) email newsletter that quickly (and sassily) summarizes the day’s top headlines and provides links for further reading. When you’re starting a new habit, such as regularly reading the news, it makes sense to make it as easy on yourself as possible. Email newsletters—particularly theSkimm—make staying informed really easy, by bringing all of your reading to one place.
Teen Vogue has rightfully been commended for their insightful political and cultural coverage, which is available for free on their website. They also have a—wait for it!—free email newsletter, which includes links to political and social writings as well as fashion inspiration and celebrity updates. A pretty good combo, if you ask me.
Another great resource is The New York Times, particularly if there is a topic you want to explore in depth. The one limitation is that you are only allowed to read 10 articles per month for free on their website. However, if you find you really like their articles and want to read more, they do offer digital subscriptions, including one for students that gives you unlimited access to their web articles for $1/week.
What’s missing from this list is local news. It’s just as important to know what’s going on in your state and city/town. More and more local newspapers are offering online content, and a quick Google search will let you know if they have websites or social media accounts. They might even have an e-newsletter!
Speak Up. Once you’ve begun to make sense of what’s going on, it’s important to make your voice heard. There are a number of ways to do this, from signing an online petition to sharing your thoughts on social media, but perhaps the most important right now is to contact the people who represent you in government. You can do this even if you can’t vote yet! It is especially valuable to do so when those representatives are about to vote on a bill that could become a law. For example, it’s my understanding that one of the reasons the original version of the American Health Care Act was withdrawn was the large number of calls representatives received from people who opposed the bill.
I have always been at least a little shy, so the idea of reaching out to my representatives has always been a little intimidating. For me, planning ahead can help reduce nerves, so I scoured some of my favorite websites for resources and advice. This really helpful article from Teen Vogue—“Congresswoman Katherine Clark Explains How You Can Resist the Trump Administration”—introduced me to a cool website called Countable. Countable gives you clear, easy-to-read summaries of bills that our national representatives (members of the Senate and House of Representatives) will vote on. The site also gives you the chance to send your opinion to them, starting with a simple click of “Yea” or “Nay.” If you want to use the site for contacting your representatives, you do need to create an account. You must be 13 or older to do so, and the site does ask for your address (your representatives keep tallies of responses they get from people in their district, and your address confirms that you live in their district). So, it would be best to check in first with a parent/guardian before creating a Countable account, if you are not an adult yet!
If you are feeling so bold, I would recommend giving your reps an actual phone call. From what I’ve read—including the above Teen Vogue article—phone calls are the most effective method. Personally, the whole talking-on-the-phone thing is what really makes me nervous. On that note, this article from Refinery29—“Calling Congress is Easier Than You Think—Here’s How to Do It”—is really useful. It includes a sample script that you can change to suit your needs and use when you call. One final tip from a friend of mine for those who are particularly anxious about making a phone call: you can always call after hours (in the evenings or on weekends) and just leave a voicemail.
Countable keeps you updated on national issues and who to contact for those, but doesn’t address local ones. Your best bet is to keep an eye on your local news (see above). If you hear about a state-level issue you want to speak up on, I found that in most cases, typing “[your state] government” in Google will lead to a website with a “find your representatives” tab. A similar approach would likely work for city/town issues, though their websites may be less sophisticated. When in doubt, ask your social studies teacher (or another informed individual)!
Donate. Another option, if you have money to give and wish to do so, is to donate to an organization that supports a cause you care about. Your best bet, if you know of a local organization that is doing work you admire, be it an animal shelter or a mentoring program, is to donate directly to them. They likely have a website with an easy option for donating, or you can give in person.
If you want to give but don’t yet have an organization in mind, I recommend checking out Charity Navigator. The purpose of the site is to evaluate charities based on how they use their money so people can be informed donors. Browsing the site, I found that smaller, local organizations (including a few in my city that I searched for) were not evaluated because they were simply too small. But if you have no idea where to give, Charity Navigator has Top Ten Lists, including “Charities with Perfect Scores” that are divided up by category, including Animals, Education, and Environment. If there is a cause you want to donate to, you’ll certainly find a worthy organization!
Volunteer. Almost six years ago, I signed up for Big Brothers Big Sisters, and I still count it as one of the best decisions I ever made. It is cheesy but oh-so-true that you grow when you give. If you wish to donate your time, there are certainly organizations and causes that could use your skills and compassion.
Doing some research online, I found that, unfortunately, if you are under 18, your options will be more limited. Your best bet, if you know of a local organization you’d like to volunteer for, is to go to their website to see what volunteer opportunities they offer. If they state that they do not offer volunteer opportunities to individuals under 18, I don’t think it would hurt to call and ask about the possibility of volunteering alongside an adult who could accompany you.
While down the Internet rabbit hole, I ended up on DoSomething.org. The site has a variety of “campaigns,” or activities both big and small that support a variety of causes. For example, one on the home page that caught my attention was to create a cute recycling box to remind you to recycle your empty beauty product containers. If you create a DoSomething.org account, complete the campaign, and upload a photo of you doing so, you have the opportunity to win “scholarships and swag.” To create an account, you do need to provide an email address or phone number, and again, to win prizes you do need to upload a photo of yourself, so do check in with a parent/guardian before doing so.
Start Something. This one is entirely open-ended and up to you, but I would feel remiss if I didn’t include it. If you see an issue in your community or world and you have an idea about how you could be part of the solution, with determination, research, and hard work, the sky is the limit as far as what you can accomplish. I believe this with all of my heart and mind, in part because, when I was an Online Contributing Writer for Girls’ Life, I spent a lot of time doing interviews with girls who were being recognized by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards for their outstanding community service projects. There was a 13-year-old who created a program to collect wasted cooking oil to be reconverted and used to heat the homes of those in need. An 18-year-old who had founded a program that helps schools include students with disabilities on their cheerleading squads. And a 16-year-old who had raised over $500,000 to help orphaned children across the world.
Every single step we take forward, whether it’s a phone call or a dollar donated or an hour volunteered, does matter. It does, and I don’t want you to every doubt yourself on that. I also want you to know that if you have a big dream or goal as to what you want to do for your world—our world—you absolutely can make it happen. I have faith in you.