By Rahi Shah, Blue Future Spring for Progress and Change organizer
It’s hard to live in the present when you can see exactly what the future can hold. I envision a future where everyone’s voices matter. One where we won’t have to fight for basic equal rights but only make sure to hold our officials accountable. A future filled with opportunities for all regardless of their genders, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Blue Future has laid the foundation for such a future by teaching individuals like me how to organize for the betterment of our communities.
In the 10 weeks of the Spring for Progress and Change program, I’ve learned from organizers from across the country about issue advocacy regarding crucial topics like climate justice and reproductive rights. I’ve heard from the perspectives of elected officials doing their duty and asking us as their constituents to hold them accountable. I learned the importance of youth voices and how to amplify them. I grew closer to the democratic process and created a Midwest Advocacy Coalition with fellow organizers in the region while also supporting other youth organizers creating their own Youth Advocacy Councils in their area. In these 10 weeks, I’ve seen the impatience of the youth and how it can fuel the change that is needed in our country.
The need for change is there. It has always been there. This really hit me when I picked up my phone to call residents in Texas facing the adverse effects of climate change, which some still don’t believe is a reality. While in typical campaign phonebanks, it is normal to only have a small percentage of voters pick up their phone, each number that was dialed picked up that day. Each number had a story to tell. They didn’t have power. They didn’t have running water. They didn’t have the ability to go get food. They didn’t have heat. One conversation I had will stick with me forever. A man picked up the phone and I went on to read the script to ask if his family needed anything. I waited for an answer for a good 15 seconds and repeated my question. The man answered back with “no sé.” I’d never encountered a situation like this where I couldn’t seem to understand what the individual on the phone was saying and I’ve never been more grateful for choosing to learn the language of Spanish. But, I also came to realize that in moments of crisis, it’s hard to convey yourself and put into words what you so badly want to say. It takes courage. It takes faith. It takes patience. My favorite childhood novel, Divergent, taught me one thing: “Fear doesn’t shut you down. It wakes you up.” I was afraid. Afraid for this man and his family’s safety. Afraid that I wouldn’t be able to fulfill my duty. But, taking a moment to recollect my thoughts, I patiently spoke with the broken Spanglish that I could at the moment. The man did need help. His family had running water and electricity, but they hadn’t been able to go out to get food due to his car not working and the weather conditions outside. I was able to record this down and let the organizers of the phone bank know so they could send help over. I’ve never felt more fulfilled during an organizing experience. Knowing that I was able to directly offer the help someone needed even though I was hundreds of miles away made me feel content with my work. The patience to understand someone and their needs is something we can afford.
This balance of urgency and patience is exactly what politics is — realizing the urgency of hurdles we need to overcome and being patient enough to understand the views of the people who the hurdles directly affect. This is what I want my future advocacy career to look like: a balancing act. Blue Future guided my peers and I to take this first step by teaching us the importance of youth voices and a way to amplify them. Youth Advisory Councils and Youth Advocacy Coalitions are crucial to upholding principles of democracy where all citizens are involved. The youth is the future, and without us having a seat at the table and a voice that others are willing to listen to, it seems contradictory that our government is building for the future without the opinions of the future.
Even in the midst of a global pandemic, Blue Future showed me the importance and necessity to continue advocating for the issues that matter to us. As a technology-oriented generation, youth organizers across the country banded together to reshape the way we advocate. From phone banking to letter-writing campaigns, advocacy wasn’t just about standing up for your own small community but for others as well. They say crisis fuels innovation. I experienced this first hand. With the urgent need for youth voices in our government, in only 10 weeks, we were able to lay out a plan for a region-wide council that would do just that.
Sometimes, as youth, we tend to underestimate the impact we can make. But even though you may be accustomed to thinking so, age is not a qualifier in the realm of politics. Blue Future can be the stepping stone for you like it was for me into a loving community filled with activists and organizers impatient to change the world for the better.
About Rahi: Rahi Shah is a junior at Rochester High School in Michigan. She is passionate about advocating for necessary change and amplifying minority voices. As an intersectional feminist, Rahi works as the State Director for Generation Ratify in the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Rahi spends a lot of her time engaging in issue advocacy and civic engagement work through many other organizations like Blue Future. She plans to pursue a degree in Political Science and Criminal Justice and later attend law school.