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VOX Talks Politics And Community With 7 Atlanta Teen Activists

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In the wake of a fiery 2016 U.S. presidential election, adults and teens from across the political spectrum are mobilizing their communities. Teen activists from all over Atlanta are volunteering on the campaign trail, creating social justice clubs at school, and protesting key issues. And by rejecting a narrative of powerlessness, teen activists are finding their power.

 Peachtree Ridge High School student and teen activist Leonardo Maduro-Salvarrey, 18, says, “If you see a problem in your environment and you want other people to know about it, you have to speak up. You have to speak out.”

We spoke with seven Atlanta-area teen activists about politics, time management, and the future of our city. Read on for their experiences and advice.

7 Teen Activist In AtlantaName: Jake Mershon

Age: 17

School: Centennial High School

Party: Democrat

How you’re involved

Mershon: Most of what I did was canvassing. I would go door-to-door in apartment complexes, knock on doors, tell them about Jon Ossoff in a quick couple sentences, hand them flyers and an early voting card. They also have something called phone banking, where you sit in a room for hours and just call people.

VOX: There’s this stereotype about teens not wanting to get involved in determining what happens in their communities. Is there any truth to that?

Mershon: I talk about this with my peers, but 100 percent, I think the voting age should be lowered to 16 because of how social media works now. The presidential campaigns, for example, were viewed and broadcast to everyone. With teens and social media, it’s not that they’re not paying attention to school and what goes on around them and news. That’s easy. You just go on Twitter and go on the Trending page and it’s the first thing trending: “Donald Trump said something.” There’s some truth to that, but there’s a stigma about teens not wanting to be involved in politics or anything and it’s so false.

VOX: How do people respond when they see you doing this work?

Mershon: I’d get messages from my older friends saying, “You can’t vote. Why are you so active?” I say, “Well, because I want to make a change in my community.” I can’t vote, but getting someone to change their vote from undecided to voting for a Democrat is a vote for me.

Atlanta Teen ActivistsName: Adriana Daniel

Age: 16

School: Milton High School

Party: Republican

How You’re Involved:

I’m a part of the Teenage Republicans [TARS] which helps younger Republicans in Fulton County join campaigns, make connections, and be active in expanding their knowledge of politics. I am also Second Vice Chair of the GA Teen Republicans Executive Board.


VOX: Is there any truth to the stereotype of teens not being interested in creating change in their communities?

Daniel: Most teenagers think they are too young to make a difference and inspire change… They want to, but don’t always necessarily know how to as they don’t have the experience. That’s why I really benefit from [Fulton County] TARS as it gives me experience in getting involved and really making an effort to improve my community, even if it’s in a small way.

VOX: Where do you see your activism going in the future?

Daniel: Most importantly, I want to have a voice and make an impact in my government.  

7 Teen Activist In AtlantaName: Thomas Harriett

Age: 17

School: Peachtree Ridge High School

Party: Libertarian

VOX: You said you’re starting a nonpartisan club at school. Do you anticipate any challenges?

Harriett: We have lots of ideas floating about. There’s going to be conflict, and conflict is necessary but it can also tear groups apart.

VOX: What values of the Libertarian Party are most important to you?

Harriett: I don’t like people telling me how to live my life— especially a bunch of old people on Capitol Hill. That’s really the draw for me. There’s a few problems with it, though. They don’t want to fund education, but I want to fund education. You take the good with the bad.

7 Teen Activists In AtlantaName: Gabriela N. Maduro-Salvarrey

Age: 16

School: Peachtree Ridge High School

Party: I would say I lean more toward the left, but I would say most young people are more issues-focused than party-focused… We’re part of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation.

How you’re involved:   Hassan, my brother [Leo], and I are part of an organization called the Citizens’ Climate LobbyLeo and I have also participated in the travel ban protests and we’ve been to the March for Science. We’ve done some protesting. We went to the Martin Luther King [Day Parade in Gwinnett].

Recently, [Commissioner Tommy Hunter] made comments on Facebook saying that civil rights activist and Representative John Lewis was a “racist pig” and saying things about liberals and democrats whom he represents “libtards” and “demon-rats.” Really stupid things like that. There was a lot of outrage in his county against him and in his district. We went and spoke at some of his business meetings. We were in the Gwinnett Daily Post for that. I was in the AJC for that.

VOX: How do people respond when they see you as a young person doing this work?

Maduro-Salvarrey: Most of [the activists at Unitarian Universalist Congregation] are retired or older people or over 40 and some parents of kids our age involved. They get so happy to see young people involved and it’s really cool. I like to be involved in those types of organizations because it gives those veterans that have been fighting for stuff since the ’60s hope. A lot of times, they’ll lose hope, but when we show up, they feel that we’re moving as a society because there’s young people that care about things, too.

VOX: How do you balance your activism with your schoolwork?

Maduro-Salvarrey: For me, it’s just finding what is a priority for me. I know getting straight A’s is my goal. I have to do that. This past year, I’ve really struggled with balancing things, but doing these things makes me happy and I’m passionate about it, and I care about it, so I will always make time for it even if it means I need to sleep a little later today or not sleep at all because I have to turn in projects and plan things. In the end, I’ll find time for it because it’s something I care about.

7 Teen Activists In AtlantaName: Hassan Siddiqui

Age: 16

School: Peachtree Ridge High School

Party: My dad and I are part of a political group in Pakistan called the MQM, basically the only liberal party in Pakistan.

How you’re involved: We do social media protesting to show the people in Pakistan that we do care. It’s more of a morale boost than making a direct impact on the government. When my dad was in Pakistan, he would actually protest and make a direct impact.

VOX: Was there a moment where you could clearly see the impact your work is having?

Siddiqui: Change doesn’t happen right away. We have to keep doing [what we’re doing] to have the direct impact we want over a long period of time because we can’t just give up on our position.

VOX: How do you balance your activism with your schoolwork and other things in your schedule?

Siddiqui: Don’t take naps.

Name: Lucy Yates

School: Dunwoody High School

Party: Republican

How You’re Involved

I worked as an intern for Karen Handel in the 6th Congressional Race and I am currently the Secretary for the Fulton County Teenage Republicans.

VOX: Was there a moment when you could see with clarity the impact your work was having? Or is the impact more long-term?

Yates: While working on the Karen Handel campaign, a woman came up to me, not knowing anything about the election or the candidates. Having the opportunity to inform and explain to someone, who did not have knowledge over something very important that affects my future, and the future of my community, was a great, eye-opening experience.

7 Teen Activist In AtlantaName: Leonardo Maduro-Salvarrey

Age: 18

School: Peachtree Ridge High School

Party: Democrat

Was there a moment where you could clearly see the impact your work is having?

[Whether we see the direct impact of our work] really depends on which case you’re talking about. For example, when we went to the protest against the travel ban, that was [blocked] afterward. We protested for other stuff that was much more long-term, like the March for Science.

What advice would you give to potential teen activists who really want to get involved, but aren’t sure how?

If you personally see a problem in your environment and you want other people to know about it, you have to speak up. You have to speak out.

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Maya, 17, is a freshman at Agnes Scott College. Her favorite movie is currently “Practical Magic” with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman from 1998.

Save the date! Share your voice – Dec. 9. 
This semester we invite you to join VOX teens in a community dialogue about immigration. Create art. Slam poetry. Meet each other. Follow along this semester’s investigation

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