I’ve found in life, despite my best efforts to the contrary, that I’m always being forced to do new things. Try new food. Meet new people. It’s not that new is synonymous with bad. But it’s often scary. I’ve never been a fan of scary. And being in new situations, say at school or in a club or at college, also might mean a lot of introducing yourself. That can be scary because then the problem becomes what to say to people. Who are you, in a few sentences? What can you say about yourself to these other souls, who are wandering around just as lost, just as in need of connection as you are?
What do I say? HI I’m Adrienne. Oh, I’m from Pennsylvania. I’m a writer. Oh I’m . . .
What? A lot of things. What is the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of the phrase, I am . . .
In defining yourself, do you ever say, “I am political?” Or, “I am involved in causes I believe in, that I think might make a difference?” Should you? Maybe. But I never make an argument for “should.” Should sounds like so many mandates from a lot of oppressive systems that are the root of problems in the first place. I think that people, teenagers especially, could get involved in a cause because they can. Doing things because we can and not because we should is a formidable exercise. Doing the right things because you can and not just because you should is what distinguishes mediocre from celebrated. Though, there is no shame in just trying to get by some days. In surviving. That is a political act enough for a lot of people.
But what if you can do more? Maybe you are a writer. A reader. An artist. Maybe you are an organizer. A care giver. A first-generation college student. A person who can analyze the news for their friends. It isn’t that you should use your experiences and talents to get involved—it is that you can. That is powerful; you are powerful. And this becomes more important because there are great swaths of the world that don’t have the freedom of can. There is an argument to be made in doing things on their behalf so that maybe one day they can one day, too.
Even if you are too young to vote, this will not always be the case. Start informing yourself now because you can, and then vote for the people you want to see in office because you can. And if there is a cause that speaks to you? Get involved because you can. It doesn’t take something complicated to stir a desire for change. Maybe you think there ought to be clean drinking water in Flint, Michigan. Or that everyone should have the ability to walk down the street without being harassed because of the color of their skin. Or that children who cross the boarder into the United States should not be taken away from their parents. Or that everyone should have equal access to life-saving medicine and medical care. Or that maybe . . . the “or thats” are endless. Even if it seems like none of these things affect us directly, I’d argue that they almost always do. Everyone and everything on the planet is connected, whether we see it right away or not.
You can describe many of the country’s problems in a few words, but the solutions are endlessly complicated. Anything endless can seem daunting and not worth pursuing. But on the other hand, most things worth pursuing usually look that way at the beginning. One kid, sitting on their steps in the middle of their city, might get mad enough to start a group. And that group might start a movement. And that movement could change the world. It’s happened before, countless times. Someone had to start the ball rolling. Why not you? It will be new and scary at first. That’s probably how you know you are on the right track.
And remember—you don’t have to do it because you should. Do it because you can.