@VAN_T_RUDD Photo Source: https://www.van-t-rudd.net/street-murals.html
As a high-school student, I don’t personally feel that I have any power to create substantial change in regard to the urgent issues of our time. I feel useless, and I’m sure many of you do too, because as teenagers there isn’t much we can do to solve the problems of climate change and racial injustice or participate directly in our democracy to influence progress.
We can’t vote in elections. We can’t exactly join a political party. And most of us don’t earn a large enough income to be able to donate to charities or political causes.
So how can we, become more politically engaged and active when we’re only in high school? Most of you probably don’t aspire to become big powerful politicians or charismatic leaders, but just want to be a positive helpful influence in your community. Or maybe you do want to get really political, and you want to start voicing your opinions and getting involved right now so you can lean on your experiences in the future.
Whatever your intention, the world is waiting – and it’s about time we stepped up, don’t you think?
So here you go, after some intense googling and interviews with really cool people, this is my ultimate guide to becoming politically active when you’re only in high school. Let’s go.
1. Get onto SOCIAL MEDIA
We’re seriously lucky that we live during a time where the internet is a thing; to be able to connect to people anywhere at any time is something that we’ve taken for granted, but now more than ever, it’s something that we all need to be taking advantage of. Using social media to stay politically engaged, does not take any extra special effort and is really not too difficult when we have the opportunity to do so right at our fingertips – literally.
Whether it’s posting about an issue that you’re passionate about on your Instagram story, following politicians or political organisations on Twitter or finding and sharing petitions to sign online – there’s a LOT you can do to be politically active through social media.
To find out more about what we teenagers can do, I decided to talk to a friend, about how she uses the internet to stay politically engaged.
Danya is very passionate about issues of race and the environment, and she frequently posts news stories and other resources on her Instagram story in order to raise awareness around these issues to her followers.
When asked about how she keeps herself informed and up to date, Danya pointed to social media such as Instagram, snapchat, tik tok, YouTube and the internet as general ways of receiving news and staying politically engaged.
If you do decide to post news stories, articles, videos or other resources about political issues on your social media, make sure that you are posting accurate fact-checked information that is appropriate to your audience.
Danya also recommends avoiding the use of vulgar or threatening language to ensure that viewers don’t feel uncomfortable or pressured to engage with your post.
Like Danya said, PLEASE DO NOT TREAT REAL ISSUES AS TRENDS!
Don’t be performative or superficial; you don’t need to post about anything if you aren’t comfortable or confident about what it means to you. If you do come across something that you truly care about, don’t be afraid to share it with people online or engage with other people’s posts on the issue. This way, you get to interact with different perspectives and ideas as well as lead conversations online in a way that you just wouldn’t be able to in real life.
2. Volunteer for the CITY OF GREATER DANDENONG
Now, let’s move onto something more physical. If you’re looking to directly help out in your local community, I’m happy to inform you that there are a wide variety of volunteering opportunities available to you right here in our City of Greater Dandenong. Obviously, in light of the pandemic, many of these positions aren’t open to new volunteers. But don’t worry, you can take this time to figure out what exactly you want to volunteer for and organise your schedule/routine to accommodate the commitment.
These are some of the volunteering opportunities that are suitable for teenagers – 16 years old or older – in the City of Greater Dandenong.
If you enjoy working with children:
Volunteer at the Jan Wilson Community Centre as a playgroup assistant – this includes assisting staff to set up planned activities and games as well as helping to tidy up at the end of the day.
Volunteer as a reading buddy for primary school children – this includes assisting primary school-aged children in the Dandenong area by providing English language and literacy support.
Luckily for us, being under the age of 18 means that we don’t need to acquire a Working with Children Check, however, you are still required to have certain interpersonal and social skills to qualify as a volunteer.
If you are interested in culture and arts:
Volunteer as a Drum Theatre Encore Host – this includes welcoming patrons to the theatre, directing them to facilities such as the café, toilets, seating, assisting with the serving of refreshments and being social with the patrons when appropriate.
Volunteer to help organise youth music events with the Freeza Muso Network Committee – this includes planning, staging and participating in a range of artistic, cultural and recreational activities.
Volunteer as a council ambassador – this includes conducting simple surveys, handing out flyers and other council information material at local festivals and events.
I would recommend browsing the council’s webpage on volunteering opportunities to find out more about application processes and other qualification requirements.
Even though being a local volunteer isn’t an overtly political thing to do, it is still an immensely valuable opportunity that will help you to engage with your community and network with council members, organisers and other volunteers. Knowing HOW to be a positive influence in your community through volunteer work will definitely help you to become an active citizen in the future.
3. Join a POLITICAL ORGANISATION
Joining a political organisation is easily one of the most effective ways to take immediate action and advocate for change. It’s particularly useful because it allows you to focus your political activism in specific areas ranging all the way from climate action to the protection of human rights all over the world.
Now joining an organisation in itself might sound a bit scary, but again you won’t be needing to do anything that you aren’t comfortable with. Joining an organisation and becoming politically engaged can include simple things like signing up for campaign updates, subscribing to newsletters, signing petitions and sharing resources through social media to raise awareness.
The organisations that I’ll be discussing (Greenpeace, Amnesty International and GetUp!) all have options for you to start getting educated on relevant issues as well as resources to connect with local action groups to influence change.
Ok, let’s talk about Greenpeace. Greenpeace is an environmental organisation that campaigns all over the globe to expose the global problems and systems that threaten our environment. To get involved you can join the Australia-Pacific network to engage in hands-on community work including campaign messaging and fundraising or you can stay informed by signing petitions and receiving regular campaign updates.
GetUp! is a national political activist group that campaigns for economic fairness, environmental justice and human rights through its local action groups and grassroots organising in Australia. GetUp! depends more on hands-on organising, volunteering and door-to-door campaign events so you might need to get your parents involved to really get the most out of the political activism and organising work they do.
Last but not least, there’s Amnesty International. Amnesty International is an organisation that works to defend the human rights of individuals all over the world and is, in my opinion, the most accessible and effective way to influence change as a kid under the age of 18. The organisation works by sending experts into areas where human rights abuses are occurring so that they can conduct research and obtain accurate and reliable information to then use to lobby governments and authorities. They expose human rights abuses and call for justice through global communication and the mobilisation of millions of supporters.
This is the part where we can get involved: through signing petitions, writing letters and organising protests supporters worldwide are able to demand action from the authorities and institutions that have the power to create change. You can browse the take action page on their website to easily find a multitude of human rights cases that require your petition signature, email, donation or call – and that’s all without even signing up. If you do decide to sign up as a supporter, which I would highly recommend, you will have the opportunity to stay further engaged by receiving reliable educational resources as well as updates on the human rights cases.
4. Write a LETTER to your MP
We’ve all heard of writing a good old, feisty call-to-action kind of letter to our politicians – maybe you’ve written one yourself at school. But now that you’re looking to (seriously) become politically active, it’s time to focus on the issues that you really care about by spending your time and energy doing what you can to influence progress. And writing an informed persuasive letter to your Local Representative or Senator is just the way to go.
This is Lana Formoso, the newly elected councillor for Noble Park North Ward. I interviewed her while she was still campaigning for the election, and when asked about what she would do to take care of the environment, she told me a story of the time she wrote to her local council asking for recycling bins.
So thanks to Lana, we know that writing to a local representative does in fact work – now let’s see how to actually go about doing it.
Once you’ve figured out the specific and focused purpose of your letter – exactly what it is that you want to see happen or change – you can go on https://www.aph.gov.au/ to find the Senator and/or Member of Parliament that represents your electorate and what the best method of contacting them would be (email, post etc). If you attend Lyndale it would make sense to write your letter to the Member for Bruce, Mr Julian Hill MP.
When writing your letter, it might be helpful to use the EPIC format suggested by https://www.results.org.au/
Engage the reader (address your MP correctly and grab their attention with a straightforward and concise opening statement)
State the Problem (the issue you are concerned about alongside key statistics and relevant information)
Inform about solutions (what do you want to happen? What are potential solutions?)
Call to action (what should your MP do now? This could include writing to a relevant Minister on your behalf)
You can find further advice on writing letters to politicians as well as correctly formatted templates for your letter on the Parliament of Australia website (and all over the internet, really). To truly become politically active, don’t stop at just one letter. If you’re dealing with a particularly pressing issue, write multiple letters to different MPs and/or Senators and encourage your friends, teachers and family to write too.
My one last unofficial piece of advice on becoming politically active in high school – would be to just stay in school. Not only that, but really pursue your education and make the most out of the opportunities that” are available to you – especially if you’re not up for trying out any of the other things I mentioned.
Here at Lyndale, you could take politically oriented subjects for VCE such as Economics, Civics and Citizenship or History in order to learn more about how society functions globally and what citizens can do (and what they have done) to influence change and have their voices be heard. You could join the student representative council, debating club or the literacy/STEM/arts/music clubs to hone your own organisational and teamwork skills and engage with your peers and teachers about issues of student voice, agency and leadership.
Maybe even write an article for the school blog?
To echo what the councillor said, it is not only important but necessary, for us to eventually step outside of our academic bubbles and engage with our community and the world around us – to become good citizens and good people.
Becoming politically active is definitely a part of that. So when you’re ready, you can get on social media, volunteer at your local council, join a political organisation or write a letter to your MP.