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Creating Change During COVID: Teen Activists Share How They Have Continued Making an Impact BY CHIKAMSO CHIJIOKE

August 9, 2020

These are perilous times we live in, as the impact of COVID-19 has been felt in all corners of the world. Everyone is undoubtedly struggling, and coping with those struggles in their own unique ways. However, we are far from powerless. Teen activists everywhere have pivoted their activism efforts to fit into the new world we live in, and have even taken the coronavirus as an opportunity to turn the public’s attention towards the pitfalls of current socioeconomic and political institutions. To learn more about these efforts, RevNow reached out to a few youth activists and asked them about how they have coped with the pandemic and continued creating change.

Responses edited for length and clarity

@the_asian_activist:

Tell us about yourself and your activism.

I’m an 18 year old british activist and I began @asiam_actiivist two years ago. I believe what separates me from other accounts is the essay-like writing and meaning behind each post. Inequality frustrates me because I grew up in a patriarchal household surrounded by rigid societal norms that were only slowly changing - those sexist double standards were like glue that were stuck to me and dictated my future. Being the daughter/granddaughter of immigrants showed me that we had to make a home back in Pakistan no matter what, because England wasn’t “our home” and the government could “kick us out” at any time. It felt like I never really belonged. After Brexit, my family had to deal with a lot of racial slurs, and were often told to ‘go back to their country’. Feeling like second class citizens is still common in my community. Especially if you add my immigrant status with my Islamic faith, which is often portrayed as evil. Muslims make up nearly 1/4 of the world's population. If we were really all terrorists there would be havoc everywhere.

How has COVID-19 affected you?

COVID-19 has affected my family directly. My grandad is stranded in Pakistan and has been trying to get “home” to the U.K. because he is running out of his medications, and Pakistani government’s aid has been poor. He needs help, but isn’t getting it. And that’s taking a massive toll on my family personally as well for others in the same situation. @thebrownhijabi is doing amazing work raising money and contacting MP’s and raising awareness about the issues of Pakistani British Nationals stranded by the government who have been paying taxes for decades. My grandad came to Britain after World War II to help rebuild it. He wanted to come as British colonization left countries like Pakistan distraught and struggling. He had little choice but to come over and better his life, and he didn’t have it easy. After paying taxes for ages he needs the government's help, and it’s not there.

How does social distancing affect mental health?

Social distancing can affect mental health in different ways for different people, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that. For example, those with severe social anxiety may benefit from not having to talk to as many people and choosing situations in which they can use their energy to interact with others. However, for others it may be even scarier as they may be left alone with their thoughts with no escapism. For some the home isn’t the safest or kindest place. For those who need help coping with their mental health, there are people there to help and listen. For example, my ‘ANGELS’ group is filled with people who have experience with these struggles. It has been popular and has helped many people. It can be found in the profile highlights of my account.

How well do you think your government has handled the pandemic?

In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party have done an appalling job. They began this pandemic with little to no preparation, despite seeing warnings in other countries and from the World Health Organization. When we had cases and deaths emerging, they started with a ‘herd immunity’ strategy which over 200 UK scientists, many other countries and the WHO discouraged [as reported by The Guardian and The Atlantic]. Our key workers still don’t have enough protective equipment, non-essential businesses are still open and people are still going out to work if they “can’t work from home”. Our testing is still lower than 20,000 tests a day, with little improvement. [As of July 20 there is a rate of testing of 1.81 per 1000 people each day according to Our World in Data]

What have you learned from this pandemic?

I have personally learned how quickly a global pandemic can reveal the true cruelty of a country’s infrastructure. These structures have always been in place, but are now being exposed. Things like poor pay for our essential workers, having refugees die at our borders was and is still a “normal” thing. Now we “need to change that” because now they are dying from this virus and not inhumane conditions. Now we can “relate” to them. The structures that govern us have always been cruel.

How are you continuing to be a change-maker during the pandemic?

The pandemic isn’t great for anyone, but I think it’s an opportunity to stay home with our families, or give ourselves time to reflect or learn new skills or even just take a break. We also need to remember those in conflict. Those in refugee camps are shut off from borders of countries, shut off from warmth, shelter, safety and food. This is why I am trying to put a positive spin on it and always remember my suffering or pain could be worse. It is something my religion teaches. The Quran says “you will have bad days and good days, so don’t despair on your bad and stay humble on your good days”. One way we can continue to make change right now is to continue donating. To help Palestine, you can donate to @medicalaidpal.

Has anything about your content changed due to this pandemic?

During the pandemic I’ve consistently reminded people of my ‘ANGELS’ group, where people with similar experiences can connect with each other and seek advice and solace! I’ve also put helplines for domestic violence and mental health so people know they aren’t alone. It’s a tough time for everyone, we should help each other and be grateful for small mercies.

What advice do you have for others?

My advice would be take it easy. We all have different circumstances and it’s a scary and worrying time for all of us right now. It’s okay if you're not learning a new skill, or keeping busy every week. It’s okay if you're behind on your online school work. Just being alive is an achievement and a blessing. If you’re feeling drained and experiencing mental health issues but you’re still able to do simple things like getting dressed, showering, and feeding yourself that’s amazing. Stay safe guys x.

What kind of message do you put out as an activist?

The essence of my message as an activist isn’t just tolerance of different kinds of people. It’s accepting and loving other people because we have more in common than what divides us. For example, the enemy of the working class isn’t other working class people, it's the establishment. Those who own it all. So we need to uplift all people for us to all win. Division is their way of breaking us. In many countries the gaps between the richest and poorest have never been wider. It's essential we come together. We’re all human at the end of the day.

Is there any other kind of message you would like to put out at this time?

We must also remember key lessons from this period: be it new hobbies or coping strategies that help you, or learning who the true essential workers that society is founded upon are. Donating regularly to refugee camps and other countries where lockdowns and poverty are a norm is also important. The lesson that we need to remember is that all this money that the government is “forced” to spend now to keep the economy running was always there. Poverty and homeless that are now being solved could always have been solved. Never forget that many of those who have died on the frontlines have been Black, Asian, and other minorities. The people we call “outsiders”, “invaders”, and “terrorists” are saving our lives now.

@asian.actiivist (Yilan Batista)

Tell me about yourself

I am a Chinese-Cuban 16 year old girl. The winter of my freshman year, I started this Instagram account to discuss the issues that Asians faced. I had recently moved to America from China, and I was missing China terribly, so the account was a way to cope with that. Growing up, I had a lot of internalized racism and believed I had to be white and live in America to be happy. When I finally came to America, I realized I would never be white or American, and that China was my true home. I started my account to sort out these feelings and connect with other Asians who had similar experiences as me. Over time, I encountered amazing activists and educators, and learned a lot about issues I never really thought about. My account became a place where I could both educate myself and educate others, where I could both find comfort for myself and support other Asians.

How has COVID-19 affected you?

COVID-19 has affected me politically. Since day 1 of the pandemic, anti-China propaganda - marked by red scare and yellow peril sentiments - has risen exponentially. While I always knew that China is one of America's top political enemies, COVID-19 made me realize the lengths America would go to demonize another country and to escape its own responsibilities. Overall, it is a frightening and depressing time because I am seeing the violence ingrained in this country everyday. However, on a more positive note, we are also seeing how China is taking the lead in sending aid around the world -- and I know American hegemony is weakening.

How does social distancing affect mental health?

Social distancing does not take a huge toll on my mental health. While I am fairly extroverted, I am also the type of person who is content to stay at home often. I do miss my friends, and there were many exciting things I was going to do this year that got cancelled, but I try not to complain too much because I am so much more privileged than so many people.

How do you think your government has done handling the pandemic?

The American government has completely failed with dealing with this pandemic. Trump knew the dangers of COVID-19 since January, but he chose to ignore all the warnings given to him. Meanwhile, mainstream media outlets spent all their time writing think pieces on Chinese "authoritarianism" and "inefficiency." As the pandemic escalated, America actually committed all the sins it condemned China of - censoring doctors, being too late with dealing with the virus, etc. Now, we still lack so many resources. Working class people of color are disproportionately suffering [According to the CDC, among non-Hispanic black persons, Hispanics and Latinos, and American Indians/Alaska Natives, evidence points to higher rates of hospitalization or death from COVID-19 than among non-Hispanic white persons]. Many states are reopening, which shows how this country is completely willing to sacrifice its most exploited citizens for the economy. America's response to this pandemic has fully exposed the failures of capitalism, imperialism and racism.

How are you handling the pandemic?

I am handling the pandemic as best as I can. I try to not let all the racism and violence I'm seeing take me down. On my social media accounts, I try my best to educate people on the lies of American propaganda and the evils of America's racialized capitalist system. On the other hand, I am spending most of my time with schoolwork.

What message do you put out as an activist?

The message I put out is one of anti-racism, anti-capitalism, and anti-imperialism. Racism, capitalism and imperialism are three systems that all work hand in hand.

Has anything about your content changed due to this pandemic?

Yes, my content has shifted to talk mostly about China during this pandemic.

What kind of message do you think is important at this time?

I think right now is a crucial time to educate people on the realities of capitalism. I think right now can be a huge radicalizing moment for many people as we are seeing America discard working class people of color and spend all its energy on demonizing non-white socialist countries.

What advice do you have for others?

My advice for others is that right now is a crucial moment to both take care of ourselves and also work with our communities. We have to be kind to ourselves and not push harsh expectations, and also use this moment to connect and work with other people to fight against capitalism, imperialism and racism.

As you can see, activism has not stopped just because we are staying inside. If anything, younger generations have grown even more passionate and dedicated to promoting social justice and equality during the pandemic. This goes to show that, even during a global crisis, teens are perfectly capable of continuing to shape our future through education, advocacy, and change. The change has begun, and not even a pandemic can stop it now.

NOTE: These responses were recorded in April, before the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed.

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Credits:

Created with an image by Brian McGowan - "COVID-19 Screening Tool (apple.com/covid19)"