Youth have been involved in organizing throughout much of U.S. history—from underpaid newsboys going on strike in New York City in 1899 to African American children in school desegregation campaigns. Today, young people are at the forefront of energized campaigns on behalf of the environment and to stop gun violence. Kate English, Executive Director of One Step A La Vez, has been organizing Latino youth in the rural community of Fillmore since 2014. Here, she shares her insights on youth organizing.
McCune Foundation:Why is it important for youth to be part of social movements?
Kate:It’s their world. They need to shape it. Youth voices have so much power because they can see things from a perspective that adults can’t. There is potency when youth are at the center, especially with issues that affect them.
McCune Foundation:What issues have One Step youth worked on?
Kate:Everything we do is in response to youth saying, “We need this, we need that.” They created LGBTQ support groups and now a Trans group. One Step youth organized and led over a hundred students in the March for our Lives Walk Out. Another student changed school policy to waive fees for AP tests.
McCune Foundation:How do you share power with youth?
Kate:It’s been a journey to explore my adultism. I’m a strong leader, but to center the voice of youth you have to make all kinds of room for their ideas. I’m there to provide structure for their vision and energy without co-opting or limiting. As an elder, my experience and voice adds value.
McCune Foundation:Any advice to share about organizing youth?
Kate:Identify winnable campaigns. With long campaigns, youth need intermediate goals they can celebrate. Even getting a meeting with an official is a win. They have to see the results of their work.
McCune Foundation:What has surprised you about the impact of youth organizing?
Kate:If you get the right person in the right room, you can change policy. You go to Sacramento and a youth tells their story and legislation is shaped around it.