By Judge Tom Jacobs and Natalie Jacobs, coauthors of Every Vote Matters: The Power of Your Voice, from Student Elections to the Supreme Court
“People love what other people are passionate about.”
—Mia (played by Emma Stone) in La La Land
Tomorrow, July 25, marks the 57th anniversary of a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement—the date when Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, became desegregated. It was months earlier, in February 1960, that four African-American college students were refused service at the lunch counter. They peaceably protested by staging a sit-in and refusing to leave the lunch counter. Their civil activism helped spur a youth-led movement resulting in months of peaceful protests and marches, which ultimately resulted in the desegregation of that store’s lunch counter.
Fast-forward to 2017, and a similar issue has been brewing in communities throughout the country. The case has made its way through the judicial system and reached the United States Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear the case next term. Instead of racial discrimination, this time the Court is addressing discrimination based on sexual orientation and freedom of religion/expression.
The case started when a Colorado baker refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. The two men challenged the baker’s refusal of service as a discriminatory act and a violation of the state’s public accommodations law. They won their case in the lower courts, which resulted in the baker petitioning the Supreme Court to hear the case.
Whether you’re fighting for equality and justice in court or at a lunch counter, there are many ways one voice or one act can effect change. Educating middle schoolers about historical events and relating those events to current social justice issues may help trigger a yearning to learn more and become engaged. Here are a number of action points for students to let their voices be heard and become active members of their communities.
- Volunteer for a partisan organization. Students can volunteer for the state’s Democratic Party, Republican Party, or the political organization of their choice. Young students can help their political party’s local chapter by stuffing envelopes, helping register voters, and canvassing neighborhoods (with other adult members of the group). Volunteering for a candidate’s campaign (local or state) is another option for student activists.
- Volunteer for a nonpartisan organization. Countless grassroots organizations are in need of supporters and volunteers. See the listed resources and links below.
- Educate family, friends, and peers. Young activists can discuss issues that are important to them with family and friends. The more these issues are discussed, the more people will become educated and engaged and ultimately care about what’s happening in Washington, D.C., and beyond.
- Participate in a peaceful rally, demonstration, or march. The Women’s March that occurred in January of this year involved more than 3 million people around the world supporting change through love and acceptance. Today, women are donning red cloaks and white bonnets ala The Handmaid’s Tale and standing in silent solidarity at demonstrations across the country to protest gender discrimination and the infringement of women’s reproductive rights. The protestors’ silence and eye-catching costumes have been effective in gaining attention for their cause. Many of the marches and demonstrations this past year included participants of all ages. Students can encourage their friends, peers, and teachers to participate through a sign-making party and to march or rally together.
- Go to a town hall meeting. Show up and speak up. All voices are equal, no matter the person’s age. Find a meeting near you at TownHallProject.com.
- Mobilize through social media. Tech-savvy students have a myriad of social media techniques to spread information about their causes and gain support. Starting a Facebook group is a quick and easy way to get the message out. The Women’s March founders organized via a Facebook group and started a movement that inspired millions. Young students can do this, too.
- Make a phone call, send an email, or write a letter. Our legislators work for us, the constituents, and they care a great deal about what we think. State and federal lawmakers normally hear from a small percentage of the people they represent. If this number dramatically increases, they will be forced to take their constituents’ thoughts and actions into consideration. The earlier teens begin writing, emailing, or calling their senators and other lawmakers, the more likely they will be to continue to express their voices in the future.
- Hold a mock election. Students can bring a mock election to their school, with the help of other students and teachers, to educate peers about the electoral process and the need for voter participation in a healthy democracy.
Here are some great resources that list organizations to volunteer with and/or that provide ideas specific to the causes a student may be interested in, such as the environment, education, and human rights:
- Youth Service America: Ideas by Issue Area
- Speak Out: Links to Student & Youth Organizations
Middle schoolers and young teens who already have the fire to fight for justice or a cause they are passionate about should not be stifled in any way. Encourage these young activists to stand up for what they believe in and to use their voices.
Thomas A. Jacobs, J.D., was an Arizona assistant attorney general from 1972–1985 where he practiced criminal and child welfare law. He was appointed to the Maricopa County Superior Court in 1985 where he served as a judge pro tem and commissioner in the juvenile and family courts until his retirement in 2008. He also taught juvenile law for ten years as an adjunct professor at the Arizona State University School of Social Work. He continues to write for teens, lawyers, and judges. Visit Judge Jacobs’s website AsktheJudge.info for free interactive educational tools that provide current information regarding laws, court decisions, and national news affecting teens.
A former criminal defense attorney, Natalie Jacobs works with her father, Judge Tom, on the teen rights website AsktheJudge.info, helping teens and their parents become better informed about youth rights and the laws affecting minors. She has volunteered with the Arizona Innocence Project, which investigates claims of innocence and works to exonerate those wrongfully convicted. Natalie lives in Arizona.
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