What is lobbying? For some, it’s a word that brings up images of D.C. politicians, oil tycoons, and fervent protesters with a political agenda. For me, it represented the voice of a movement trying to make itself heard. I had always thought of lobbying as the ultimate activist occupation—fists and posters raised in a show of resistance against corrupt corporations, laws, or politicians in government. When I was younger, I believed that lobbying, although brave and purposeful, was only for those who already had at least a little bit of power—enough power to stand up for what they believed in. I did not feel particularly powerful, and I wasn’t sure if I had even enough power to stand up and try to make myself heard as a lobbyist. As I got older, that began to change when I started coming to Boston Mobilization and discovering my power as an activist. I still wasn’t sure if I was powerful enough to make the change that I wanted to see, but I knew that I was going to try.
Two years ago, I lobbied for the first time at the State House with Sub/Urban Justice. I went to a rally for the Youth Jobs Campaign and we marched as a group to the State House at the top of the hill to meet with our city representatives. While my representative was not present, I still got to deliver my speech to an aide, with a friend by my side. I talked about why youth jobs deserve funding and their positive impact on communities with teens. Some teens need the income to support their families, others use the experience with real-world financial education, and more. Although the entire experience was a dizzying blur of faces, names, and statistics, it was the first time I felt powerful enough to make real change in the movements important to me. By no means did I suddenly gain enough confidence in my lobbying activism to enable me to meet with my legislators every other Sunday, but it was my first real taste of the power that organized people could have when they joined forces in solidarity regarding a cause.
Earlier today, at Sub/Urban Justice, I sat in on a workshop led by another Sub/Urban Justice teen. The workshop that taught me about what lobbying is, and why it is so important to add our youth voice to the movements we support. After all, I would argue that the purpose of our democracy is not to agree on all issues at all times. Rather, it’s to disagree, and to reach a conclusion not in spite of our differences, but because of them. Although I like to think that I now have a better understanding of the organizing and education process that goes into lobbying, I will not deny that I still have so much more to learn. I had plunged only a few feet under the surface, and I still have a lot of swimming to do. I learned the specifics of storytelling—the way to convey to an important audience just how relevant your cause is and how it relates not only to yourself, but to your whole community, state, or country. I learned the importance of stating your case in a way that makes it urgent to whoever can help make the change necessary to advance your cause.
In listening to the voices of those leading and participating in the workshop, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my previous views on lobbying and activism, and how much they had evolved through new experiences. Remembering my doubts regarding my power as an activist and what I was capable of achieving, I thought that there, sitting in a room with other youth activists who are constantly growing into their power as leaders of their communities, my younger self would have been proud at how far I had come. I believe that there is so much to be done in learning more about how to use my voice in the capacity that I am given, as an activist, lobbyist, student, mentor/mentee, and a teenager. But for now, I am proud of breaching the surface of my activist/lobbying work, and swimming a little bit further down by gaining more knowledge in using the power of my voice each day.