(This post could be more accurately titled How Not To Be a Jerk To, Like, Anyone Younger Than You, but the skepto-atheist movement is actually one where we can directly see how young students and activists are making waves. Also, they’re the ones reading this.)
It’s no secret that the secular movement has grown into a movement full of students, enthusiastic young people who go and do and write and organize cool conferences. SkepTech, Skepticon, Secular Student Alliance anyone?.
And that means young people are watching what the secular movers and shakers are saying. They’re blogging about it and retweeting and memeing and quoting. These, secular leaders, are the future of your movement. They’re listening to you.
And honestly, we’re a little tired of being the punchline.
At Women in Secularism last weekend, one speaker described young activists as annoying. Of course, being annoying get things done, she clarified, over the laughter of the room. But you have to grow up to have perspective, she continued, and went on with her message. From my perspective in the fourth row, watching two-thirds of the room agree that my demographic was annoying and nearsighted didn’t exactly have me leaping to volunteer my time.
“You’re so young for an activist!” Look, this one doesn’t even make any sense at all. Students have always been integral to activist movements. If it would be weird (though more accurate) to tell you “but you’re so old to be interested in social movements!” then I’d strongly suggest avoiding the reverse. Besides, what does one say in response? Why yes, I am young! Thank you for noticing!
Watch your language. The Secular Student Alliance has all my love for getting this one consistently right. Student activists, young activists, teens….all great! Kids? Less so. For one, it’s simply less descriptive: kids doesn’t tell you what someone is doing as much as it conveys tousled hair and sneakers. Unless your subject is under say, 13, you’re picking a word that’s both inaccurate and dismissive.
Don’t qualify our achievements with our age. This part is complicated, because sometimes, it negates part of the previous. Say someone blogs or does activisty things as a result of their studenthood, or for a student organization (Like the MU SASHA Blog!). Congratulations–you’re completely correct in calling them a student blogger. However, if someone does activism whilst simultaneously happening to be a student…not so much. Go for “blogger and student”. And ask yourself why you need to point out their studenthood in the first place. After all, both my co-blogger Ashley and #FtBully Ian Cromwell are students. Would you describe them as student bloggers? Why not? Why do you need to point out the student part for young collegiate or high school students, but not graduate students? Why is it relevant to their blogging? [CFI On Campus has been great about this.]
A word on facebook friending those same young activists:
Facebook is wonderful, and social media has been a huge asset to this movement. And, speaking from experience, it’s just exciting to friend and be followed by those people whose writing you’ve read, whose speeches you’ve followed on YouTube. And it’s horrifying to watch those people you’ve looked up to for long stop by your status to tell you that you just don’t get it yet. To wait five years–you’ll understand better.
For many of us, this was the first thing we got involved in, the first time we felt part of a movement bigger than ourselves, like we could make a difference and change the world. I bet you felt like that too. And I bet you heard it was silly, that you didn’t get it, that the world didn’t work that way.
So, if you find yourself considering telling that young whippersnapper about how you remember that time in your life, and really, they’ll know better later, I encourage you to continue to harken back to your teenagerhood. Can you recall, also, exactly how helpful it was for everyone older than you to inform you how little understood about the ways of the world?
Yeah, me either.
Shoutout to Chicago Skeptics, a group that responded wonderfully to suggestions and has been bringing in new and young speakers, noted when locations were age-restricted, supported the ventures of secular groups at universities, and generally have been my favorite way to get involved in the secular community.