Dane County is facing a turning point. Elected officials and institutions of power are fetishizing youth activism from BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and other historically excluded youth without actually supporting us. They look to underrepresented communities and expect us to do their job for them.
This toxic mentality needs to change.
After getting elected to represent District 5 on the Dane County Board of Supervisors, I have landed in an interesting dichotomy between being an elected official and a student activist. I am learning every day to reconcile the relationship between activism and public service. I try to constantly challenge myself on how I can use my power as a County Supervisor to advance the movement toward racial and class equity. I will always be learning how to best use my identity as a biracial, queer, and nonbinary person to make room at the table for those consistently shut out of the conversation.
During my time on the County Board and at UW-Madison, I’ve quickly recognized that authority figures love to keep the idea of youth power at an arm’s length. They assure us that it’s important and our presence is necessary, but when it’s proven that we are more than capable of making change, they discourage our voices because we threaten their power that is nestled within the status quo.
To present day, particularly white, older generations have touted moderate political stances under the guise of pragmatism. This rhetoric halts positive and progressive change younger generations need in order to truly flourish, in Dane County and beyond. Promoting solutions such as decarceration, taking drastic measures to mitigate climate change, defunding the police, and providing affordable housing may seem like radical and idealistic policies, but they are feasible, so long as there are people in positions in power to bring change into fruition.
I believe that we are seeing more and more of the younger generations become vocal about and fight for issues of social justice because we are recognizing how older generations have undoubtedly failed to meet our needs. We have inherited the problems of our nation and our world prematurely. In the face of adversity, young leaders have emerged to step up to the plate to protect the citizens of our nation, rocking the boat of complacency, and never needing permission to lead. And despite the difficulties bequeathed upon us, we have decided to fight back with determination to create a more equitable and just society.
Far too often, young people are told that they cannot hold positions of power because we are perceived to be too inexperienced—that we lack the capability to lead with poise and put forth educated policy.
This notion goes unsupported. It is because of primarily BIPOC youth activists that these tough conversations are being pushed into our daily lives and forcing us to act. Instead of focusing on the normal things teens and 20-year-olds should be occupied with, we are leading the conversation on everything from climate change, defunding the police, voter suppression, gun violence prevention, and racial equity.
When I announced my campaign for the County Board last year, I could not have anticipated what my first term as Dis. 5 Supervisor would hold. It goes without saying that 2020 has been an extremely difficult year, testing the limits of and exposing the systemic inequities that plague our everyday lives. The unveiling of a new pandemic, spurred by the coronavirus, coupled with the existing pandemic of racism has taken its toll on all of us. There have been times where I have completely broken down and lost hope. I grapple with my purpose in life constantly and wonder if people my age are supposed to feel this tired all of the time. It is exhausting having to push upstream and fight for justice that should have been restored long ago, especially with regard to racial and class equity and environmental protection.
The truth is, young people know what it takes to heal our society from systemic inequities. It is incredibly important that we get young people at the table, specifically BIPOC youth. We have no need for wannabe career politicians, looking to further their influence and make bids for higher offices while obstructing the advancement of true progressive change.
To the BIPOC, LGBTQ+, disabled, and other historically underrepresented youth in Madison and Dane County: This is our time to shine. No matter those in power are telling us that we are not ready to lead; we will always prove them wrong.