For many teenagers like me, the Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor have felt monumental and oftentimes overwhelming. As people my age approach adulthood, the deep scars of society, the kleptocratic realities of this country, and the realization that the biases within ourselves are intrinsic to systemic racism, are emerging in the consciousness of my generation. In short, it is a lot to process.
Truth to be told, this reality is not new—we simply have reached the age to come to an understanding of its existence. Systemic racism set foot on this continent in 1619 when the first Black slaves arrived in Jamestown, continued in the Reconstruction era through the rise of Jim Crow, persisted when “separate but equal” became the norm through Plessy v. Ferguson, and seeped into the deepest roots of America as “White Only” signs plastered store windows. Even after the Civil Rights Movement in the 60’s, America failed to acknowledge and uproot this systemic racism and the current condition of Black America serves as a clear testament to that truth. Black people are subject to racial profiling, unequal access to resources, astronomically higher incarceration rates, poorer education, and higher rates of poverty. Systemic racism has stained every inch of the fabric of American society. Again, it is a lot to process and difficult to come to terms with.
But I am hopeful and optimistic. The outrage by young people and the outpouring of support that I am seeing from those around me tells me that the current events will be a true catalyst for change. Nonetheless, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and not know what to do to help out with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Here are a few things that every teenager can do to enact change in our communities.
Attend your local city council meetings: It is easy to get caught up in the national headlines when keeping up with the news. However, the most effective way to address systemic racism is by addressing it in your local community. As a teenage community member, your voice as a young person carries a powerful conviction especially in a local context. Voice your concerns through a Public Comment during a city council meeting. The Seattle City Council allows anyone to sign up for a Public Comment 2 hours prior to the council meeting. Seattle City Council’s meetings are now all held online. Public testimonies through Zoom are available for the Renton City Council meetings, and written requests can be sent in for Bellevue City Council. Make sure to check your city’s policies on citizen participation for city council meetings.
Get involved with and/or donate to Bail Funds: Thousands of people are in pre-trial jail in which many of whom need bail assistance to leave. Moreover, many of these people have not even been convicted of a crime—yet, they are held in jail. Incarceration rates for Black people are six times higher compared to white people in Washington State and this leaves many Black people struggling to break loose out of a criminal justice system that criminalizes them. Use-of-Force rates are significantly higher on Black people and unsurprisingly, a disproportionately large number of police complaints are filed by Black people. Donations to the Northwest Bail Fund, for example, can support those in pre-trial jail in King and Snohomish county. Now more than ever, these people need the support to go back to their families and their lives. Bail Funds are an effective way to have an immediate impact on the local community.
Keep your representatives accountable: Whether it be your district representative into the United States Congress, Washington State Legislature, or local community leaders, these representatives’ duty is to voice your concerns and demands on an institutional level. Do not hesitate from writing emails and letters to your local representatives. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray are the Senators representing Washington State. Pramila Jayapal represents Washington’s 7th Congressional District (Seattle, Shoreline), Adam Smith represents the 9th District (Bellevue, Renton), and Suzan DelBene represents the 1st District (Redmond, Bothell). I also urge you to reach out to Washington State legislatures in your local district: https://app.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/Home/GetMobileMapView?lat=0&lng=0. Find both your Congressional and Washington State Legislature Representatives in your local district using this website. Equally important is the executive office of King County, headed by Dow Constantine who serves 4 year terms: he will be up for reelection in 2021. The 2020 August Primaries are especially important knowing that the next Attorney General (currently Bob Ferguson) will be elected. The Office of the Attorney General is responsible for criminal justice, public safety, and economic justice amongst many other duties. With the current pressures to reform public safety in Seattle, keeping the Attorney General accountable will be critical to the success of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Research, have conversations, and engage in introspective reflection: This monumental time offers us a critical time to research about systemic racism that is deeply rooted in American society. It is omnipresent in both the timeline of American history as well as today’s modern American society. Take the time to read books and publications to immerse yourself in how your life is interwoven in this society. A few books that I consistently come across regarding Black history are, So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. I can speak personally to Between the World and Me, and that Coates’s powerful writing, strong conviction, and clear message offered me a deep look into the life of Black man in America. This tumultuous time also makes for a great time to reflect upon yourself. Ask yourself, what privileges do I have because of the color of my skin? How do my actions feed into systemic racism? When do I unknowingly buy into implicit biases based on race? These are difficult, but critical questions to ask yourself as an American.
I hope the four things above can serve as a guideline to how teenagers like me can be involved in this fight for racial equality. Diving deep into your local community as well as yourself during these times can make for transformative conversations and institutional change which will be critical to the success of this movement.
The Bus was stoked to be able to provide a small economic boost to five amazing young, local artists. Thank you to everyone who participated by sharing their art, promoting the contest, and voting on the submissions! Read on and get to know the artists behind two of our arts contest submissions and learn their stories.
Fifth House Media: Kamyar Mohsenin (he/him) Hanan Hassan (she/her) Toni Banx (she/her) Elevate music video
Performed by: Hanan Hassan (@onedesertflower), Toni Banx (@toni.banx); Written by: Hanan Hassan, Toni Banx; Filmed by: Kamyar Mohsenin (@kamyar.m); Produced by: Noah O’Connor (@noah_coinflip); Engineered by: Noah O’Connor, Arthur Anderson (@mead.st)
About the piece: “This song is written as a reminder to the listener of their agency in unfavorable social circumstances and their power to ‘elevate.'”
How COVID is impacting the artists: Hanan is a teaching artist who worked in community outreach, and that is totally eliminated, which is creating financial strain. She’s hopeful that she’ll get to return to that work. Toni lost her job completely, but she feels lucky that there are resources to help during COVID. Being a creative person, she’s taking it all positively and is grateful for the space to dive into her creativity. Kamyar’s workload has diminished– he went from teaching four in-person film-making classes to teaching two online classes and is definitely feeling the financial strain. He’s also working with Coyote Central, Lens Culture, and as a freelance video editor. He’s always excited about and working toward more projects with local, like-minded artists.
On adjusting and upliftment: Toni has more time to do what she loves to the fullest extent. “The way that I create has always been to give a voice to people that are underrepresented, especially black women. I feel like it’s important that we are heard and understood. Hip hop is a great medium for that.” In Toni’s words, the pandemic is highlighting where the screws are loose in our society.
Kamyar has been making more of the space that he lives in; re-sorting the feng shui of it since he’s in it all the time and needs to be inspired and productive in it and by it. He’s trying no to take for granted the fact that the pandemic has issued a reclaiming of time and is using it as an opportunity to better himself in the long run.
Hanan’s message hasn’t changed because her art is always about underrepresented communities who are repeatedly affected by the same detriments. A lot of the poetry, scripts, and music that she writes discuss upliftment and reality while being able to point out what’s wrong, why it’s wrong, and how we can fix it.
Art as Activism: Toni: “Hip hop is the voice of the people. It’s the voice of where I’m from.” Toni feels that the genre has been misconstrued. It highlights social injustices and inadequacies, and instead of crying about it, it offers solutions. “My number one thing that I always want to give people is ideas, suggestions, ways to move forward. That is what hip hop is created for.”
Hanan: “Art is a vehicle for activism. With everything that we do, it feels like there’s no option to be apolitical. Being an underrepresented person in a community, you have to speak up for yourself and choose the medium to do that.” Hanah also described art as a capsule for storytelling. “In order to be an activist, you have to know the history and the best way to impact people.”
Kamyar is a big advocate for environmental consciousness in his classrooms. He’s been trying to use his privilege to amplify the voices that need to be heard and matter. This video is a testament to that. He’s learning how to better assist others and expose communities in a way that’s honest and authentic.
All these artists are inspired by the richness of people’s lives and stories.
Most importantly, how to support them: “We can’t pay bills with comments and likes.” Cashapp: $fifthhouseband
These amazing artists told me right off the bat that “during the pandemic, it’s very important to help one another,” so they donated the $300 from the Bus to Baby Z (the adorable baby in the music video) and their mom.
Follow and purchase: @themelojuice (Hanan’s brain child/recipe supported by Kamyar and Toni)
“Tell Seattle to actually support their artists. Too many artists grow up here or come here but can’t make strides.” They really want to be able to stay here and see the city become a true hub for artists, instead of watching awesome artists flee to LA or New York. They know that people here have spending power and want entertainment and feel that we shouldn’t depend so heavily on the government to fund the arts. “If the artists who are working hard had opportunities to show their work, people would want to be patrons.” As a voice for all local creatives, they want to see more venues, gallery spaces, opportunities for exposure, and local (emphasis on that adjective!) artists being uplifted and showcased.
Stay tuned for more beautiful work by Fifth House!
About the piece: “The illustration is of signs in front of the Northwest Detention Center calling for the release of folks detained. I drew sunflowers behind the fence because to me, sunflowers represent hope and I like that they always find the sun, even in difficult conditions.”
How Erika has adjusted: Erika was heavily impacted because the coffee shop she worked at closed, so she hasn’t been able to work there in two months. She’s adapting by making masks, and she also joined a mutual aid group to help support her community by doing things like grocery shopping for those who can’t, which she highly recommends if you’re in a position to do so. She is also helping to put together a food justice online summer school with Community Alliance for Global Justice and works part-time for a youth fellowship. “I am a person who tends to make themselves busy, for better or for worse! But I am realizing that it is important to take time to rest and to grieve and not to put too much pressure on myself to be productive or continually working, so that is a practice that I am engaging in more.”
Erika on art as activism: “I think the intersection of art and activism is super important! It’s super freeing to create art (even if you don’t consider yourself an artist) and I think creating activist art together is a great way to build community and camaraderie in movements. Art also helps spark an emotional connection to an issue in a way that data and facts cannot.”
What inspires Erika: “My biggest art inspiration right now is the cartoonist Lynda Barry. She is an incredible writer, artist and educator. She has written a couple books on creativity, personal narrative and building a consistent art practice. It has been incredibly helpful to me. Inspiration only lasts so long though, I have found that finding time to sit down to draw, to let my brain wander and not pass judgements on my ideas is super important. I also often find inspiration to create a larger work from what I doodle or from something small I observe/hear/think in my daily life.”
How to support: Erika says the best way to support artists right now is by buying their art! If you can’t afford art right now, even commenting on or sharing artists’ work online is so helpful and much appreciated.
By Libby Watson, College & Community Engagement Coordinator
As COVID -19 continues to reveal the deep inequities in our democracy, the Bus is doubling down on our efforts to shape Washington’s future. For this reason, the Bus Summer Fellowship is going digital! This year we will focus on transforming digital action into political action.
Fellows will experience the same hands on democracy, community building, and social justice learning as always. Organizing our peers now means organizing rad online events, base building through social media, and throwing the most fun “couch parties” that have ever happened. Climate justice and housing affordability impact young people now more than ever,and Fellows will lead the charge on organizing their peers to uplift these core issues. We’re excited to transform digital organizing and bring it to the forefront of the Bus’ work with the help of a skilled class of Fellows, social justice experts, and our partner organizations.
Meeting young people where they are has taken on a whole new meaning in the time of social distancing.We can’t wait for you all to meet the Fellowship Class of 2020 as they take over the internet and advance progressive reform across Washington State.
Mo Pannier, Leadership Development Coordinator
Leila Reynolds, Field Organizer
PS: Check out this video of our dear VoteBot going RemoteBot — enjoy!
In the current state of global pandemonium, news of the 2020 Census has been buried underneath blaring headlines about the coronavirus. The Census deadline has been pushed back to mid-August, and the stay-at-home orders have left Census workers biting their nails, apprehensive about the accuracy of this year’s Census.
This setback, however, does not change the fact that the Census matters more than ever for teenagers. As teenagers, it is easy to sit in the sanctity of our homes, letting any shred of thought regarding the Census fly over our heads. After all, we are still kids, sheltered from the realities of an adult life. However, the Census occurs once a decade—in other words, the Census data from 2020 will directly affect federal program spending deep into our 20’s.
Hundreds of federal programs use the Census data to make decisions on where and how the 675-billion dollars-worth of funding will be distributed every year. A large portion of this money directly affects high schoolers and college students. In fact, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Commerce, three within the top ten largest programs that use the Census Bureau Data are from the Department of Education. The largest of the three, is the Federal Pell Grant Program.
Federal Pell Grant Program, as the name implies, offers grants from the US Department of Education to help undergraduate college students pay for tuition. According to estimates from a Federal Pell Grant Report, 31% of undergraduate students received Pell Grants, or about 6.8 million students, during the 2018-2019 school year. The program’s 28 billion dollars of expenditures were directly affected by the 2010 Census data.
As a high schooler, I am frankly blown away by these numbers. The realization that a third of my peers in college will be dependent on federal programs that use Census data, hits me with a sense of urgency. Unfortunately, college debt is an inescapable reality for most students and mitigating the crisis of college debt will require appropriate distribution of funding. Knowing that the financial support that we will receive during our time in college is contingent on the accuracy of this year’s Census sheds light on the fact that the 2020 Census is vital to our long-term livelihoods.
Other than the Federal Pell Grants, medical assistance, construction, and Title 1 Grants, among many other programs will depend on the data from the 2020 Census. As one teenager to another, I want to call out to you reading at this very moment, to help with the Census. The Washington Bus has organized multiple virtual ‘Get Out The Count’ text/phone banks via Zoom, giving young people like us to contribute to the Census, especially during this extraordinary time when Census workers will need all the help and support they can get. Ultimately, the Census is not just a head count. It is a projection of our lives ten years into the future, and this opportunity to shape our future is, in my fair opinion, pretty darn important.
To fill out the census,go to 2020census.gov right now and respond. Be sure to include everyone you currently live with!
Want to volunteer with us? Help us contact people all over Washington State to Get Out The Count! We’re hosting weekly remote volunteer events as we work together to spread the word on Census! Sign up here.
HAPPY CENSUS DAY! (Not an April Fool’s joke…today is actually Census Day!)
Woah, woah, slow down. What the heck is the Census and why should I care?
The Census is an official count of every person living in the United States. It impacts how the government uses its resources, how we are represented, what programs are funded and so much more. The Census only occurs every 10 years, and the 2020 Census is happening RIGHT NOW. Making sure every young person is counted fairly and accurately is a huge deal and everyone has a role to play in ensuring a full count.
Okay, but why should I care?
Especially as the world seems like it’s crumbling into a global crisis and I’m seriously worried about myself and my family/friends (we’re with you! Please stay safe.) First things first, the Census determines the amount of funds available for disaster relief, and helps determine where new hospitals should go. Census data, especially accurate census data, means our communities are safer in the future.
An accurate census is VERY important for young people – especially if you use public transit, attend public school, need access to affordable housing, or use one of the countless government services that rely on Census data. Getting counted means that these resources can be shared equitably. Do you want your school to have the funding it needs? Do you want your community to have a grocery store where people really need it? Do you want the city’s next bus line to go through your neighborhood? Make sure you get counted in the 2020 Census!
Alright…this thing is important. Now what?
Today is Census Day! Aka the best time ever to fill out your Census form! You should’ve received a Census letter in the mail. That will have info for how to respond online (or via phone or mail). If you didn’t get that, you should go to 2020census.gov right now and respond. Be sure to include everyone you currently live with.
The sooner you respond online, the less likely a Census worker will need to stop by your home to collect info. Given recent COVID-19 concerns, responding online is the safest way to ensure you are counted.
I have more questions. Where can I find answers?
After months of chatting with young folks about the Census we’ve heard a lot of common questions and we’ve put together a list of handy answers that you can check out right here. Still have questions? Check out census.gov!
Want to do more to help? Volunteer with the Bus and help us Get Out The Count! We’re hosting weekly *remote* volunteer events as we work together to spread the word on Census! Sign up here.