Thursday, November 10, 2016

How Will I Measure My Life?

Here it goes.
I'm here.
Post #365.
After five and a half years of blogging, it's time to put Teenagers These Days into retirement. At 10:00 Mountain Standard Time on November 10, 1996, as I type this post, the Earth will have completed twenty rotations around the sun since the hour I was born. It's 9:57. I'm going to lean back and watch the clock for a few minutes.
I'm officially an ex-teenager.
That's how I've defined myself for almost six years. I've spent the day fielding congratulations and comments about "not being a teenager" anymore. But you know what? It's okay. Those years are still inside me.
I created this blog at age fourteen and thought of retiring it at sixteen, eighteen, and my high school graduation. Now the time has finally come to hang up my hat. I can't run a teen blog if I don't have teen at the end of my age anymore. I've loved this blog so much, I chose it as one of my topics for an adolescent autobiography assignment in my human development class last month. I took human development because I've spent years researching, thinking, and writing about what makes teenagers special and distinct from older and younger people. I'd been looking forward to that assignment since the first day of class. I didn't do so well on our first paper of the term, but I thought that if I could do anything well, it's writing about my own teen experiences. After all, I have years of practice.
I failed that paper. It was a labor of love, but I failed it. Part of that was my misunderstanding of the rubric, part is the TA's grading style, but the biggest factor was a discrepancy of the way I see my life and the way we were supposed to structure our paper. It was very rigid. No storytelling, just cold analysis, and we could only discuss two experiences from teen years. Two experiences. Seven pages. We were to fill it out by rattling off eight outcomes that were direct products of both those experiences. And try as I might, I couldn't think of any life changing experiences that were alone responsible for that many consequences. I did my best, but I couldn't fit something as wide and expansive and beautiful and monstrous as a life into this streamlined, cause-and-effect formula.
A couple times in your life, you get a pivot point. You move to a new state. Adopt a new sibling. Get in a car crash that paralyzes you from the waist down. Change your religion. Something of that magnitude can give you eight outcomes, easily, but real life happens in the stolen moments in between. Real life happens inside your head as much as out. Real life isn't in the milestones because milestones are supposed to mark a road, not pave it.
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In last year's English class, we read "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot. The famous line from this poem, the one my high school English teacher had on a poster, is "Do I dare disturb the universe?" But I'm always going to remember these:
For I have known them all already, known them all: 
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, 
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons...
I grow old ... I grow old ... 
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. 
My high school choir sang the song "Seasons of Love" from the musical Rent during my junior year. It talks about measuring out your life "in daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife." I never could make sense of the coffee. It didn't fit in a world of sunsets and laughter. Until I finally recognized it as a reference to this poem. My professor told the class that the coffee spoon measured away mornings. "You would probably measure out your life in Top Ramen packets."
That sounds closer to the truth than measuring out your life in milestones. In my eleventh grade creative writing class, one of my friends announced that her final project for the term would be an eighteen line poem, one sentence for each year of her life. I thought she was a woeful underachiever. Only eighteen? Here were the rest of us writing short stories and novels. I thought I could write her term project in a minute. But every day we weren't distracted by another project, she'd hunch over her desk and work on those same eighteen lines.
I expected something like this. "Age Five-Started kindergarten. Eight-Learned to ride a bike. Twelve-Moved up to middle school. Sixteen-Started dating and driving. Eighteen-I'm out of here."
But that wasn't what she presented to the class at all. I wish I had a copy of that poem, if only in my memory, but even though I don't have the timeline with me anymore, I remember how it felt to hear it. She didn't have a single birthday or graduation. There was a line about moving from Oregon and Utah, and about switching custody from an abusive to a loving parent, but the other sixteen were about the in-between things. Playing in leech-filled ditch behind her house in Oregon. Dribbling ice cream down her shirt but not caring what the other kids though. When you really look back on it, life is mostly leeches and ice cream.
Three years after that, I still haven't managed to condense my life into a good eighteen line poem. Or a twenty line poem, I guess. I have too much life even for that.
Leaving my teen years behind is hard on me. Twenty doesn't fit right yet. And I'm going to miss this blog. That's not to say that I'm going to give up blogging entirely. After I send off this last post, I'm going to reactive Erica Eliza Writes, the personal blog I've been neglecting for the past year. I created it to stretch my wings and talk about subjects that interested me beyond youth and ageism. I'll continue to cover a variety of topics there, but I'll probably slip in the same kinds of things I've been writing here.
And after my school year ends, I'm going to start a brand new blog. Along with it, a brand new chapter of my life. I'm taking eighteen months off of college to serve as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. During that time I'll post weekly updates about my life and experience. Female missionaries are titled "Sister", so if I'm called on an English speaking mission, you can find me at But there's a possibility that I'll be called on a foreign language speaking mission, so there's a possibility that I'll spend those eighteen months as Hermana Smith or Sorella Smith. I'm holding off on creating the blog until I know what my name is. Once I have it, I'll open my blog one last time and edit a link into this very post.
I'm excited for my future and thankful for my past. My teen years have been, over the course of the years, lonely and lovely and quiet and chaotic. I'm at a pivot point now, perched between two decades, and looking back on the last one, I choose not to see happiness and sadness just like I choose not to dwell on the milestones. I'm going to out measure my life in backpacks and braces, my favorite jackets and summer night kisses, my first car keys and mountains of math homework, in late nights under the covers with my iPod, typing out blog posts in secret because my parents didn't know I had an Internet-capable device. It's in the friends I loved and the questions I wrestled and the stress I cried and every dream and idea that I ever nurtured. But most of all, it's in the words. The words I wrote here.
At fifteen, my greatest fear was growing into an adult who would forget my teenage self. I have memory. I have diaries. But memory can fade and papers burns, but the Internet isn't going anywhere any time soon. I wrote this blog to shout into the world outside my soul, but I also wrote it for me.
Hello there, fourteen year old self daring to disturb the universe. And hello, future self, checking back on this time capsule to see how nineteen-turned-twenty me is doing. I'm fine, thank you. I'm find and I'm moving forward.
Now, one last thank you to my dear readers. Thank you for following me along my journey, however long I've been here. Faithful followers, I've churned out five posts in the past three days so I can end on post number 365. Make sure you don't miss my last words. And new friends, feel free to explore the archives!
This has been a labor of love, but now I'm on to new things. I love the idea of being a teenager. Now I'm setting my face forward. I can't wait to see what my twenties will bring!
Yours Truly,
Erica Eliza Smith
Teen Blogger

Quest to 365

I like numbers with significance. I want to end this blog with 365 posts before my birthday's over, and it's now it's fast drawing to a close. My 365th post will be a goodbye.
But this one?
This is a picture of some of my friends having an adventure night, to remind you that being young is about having a party. Stressing and choosing and finding and learning-but also, having a party.
Go have an adventure tonight!

Famous for Being Unfamous

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I've come across a meme featuring teen inventor William Kamkwamba multiple times in past few months. Most variants focus on the power of self-education, but the one I've seen most recently derides "the media" for not giving him the attention he deserves. It reads, "A Malawaian teenager, William Kamkwamba, taught himself how to build a windmill out of junk and bring power to his village. He then went on to build a second, larger windmill to power irrigation pumps. He did this all from books he read in the library." And the header: "Share this. Let's make him famous because the media won't."
But haven't they?
This one-time fourteen year old inventor has grown up and made a name for himself. He has given Ted Talks, been featured on The Daily Show, written up in the Wall Street Journal, and named as one of the "30 people under 30 Changing the World" by TIME magazine in 2013. His book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is required reading at several colleges and his life was the subject of an award winning documentary entitled William and the Windmill. He is now twenty nine years old. But after all those accomplishments, our motivation to share it isn't to applaud his successes, but to make him famous for being unfamous.
This bring up two important issues: First, the tendency to hail teen heroes for as underdogs, and narrowing the scope of a person's life to only recognize their earliest accomplishments. I'm going to talk about the latter first. When using social media to celebrate people for the accomplishments of their youth, there are pros and cons to only focusing on their teenage achievements. I think about this a lot whenever I do spotlight posts.
A few months ago, I did a post on the now thirty nine year old abortion survivor Gianna Jessen, where I focused on her teen advocacy and used the word "teenager" in the title. My fascination with abortion survivors started last year. I've spent a lot of time researching abortion survival and the way it impacts children's later lives There are adult abortion survivors I like more than Jessen, and there are abortion survivors who are currently teenagers or children. But I chose to focus my post on Jessen for three reasons:
1. Though abortion is an ageism-fueled issue, I try to focus this blog on teenagers specifically, not just young people in general.
2. I wrote that post in response to a biography on Jessen that only covered her teen years.
3. Jessen is simply the most famous abortion survivor in the public eye.
Though I reported on Jessen as a teenager, I didn't want anyone to come away with the mistaken idea that she was still in her teens. A casual scroller could think this of William Kamkwamba. Some meme variants mention his scholarships and college graduation, but most focus only on his teen windmill-building. I didn't know until researching Kamkwamba's life that this windmill was a thing of the past. With Gianna Jessen, I made sure to mention her birth date and included a video of the adult Jessen testifying in Congress this year.
That's not to say I've always been accurate in my teen hero spotlights.
Here's a personal research flaw I've caught recently: two years ago, I shared a video of twelve year old Lia Mills speaking out against abortion. I didn't google her name or even check the upload date before blogging it. I assumed it to be a recent video. My abortion survivor research has lead me to follow a number of pro-life accounts, and just a few weeks ago, someone else posted about twelve year old Lia. Nobody stays twelve for two years, so I fact checked her age.
Fourteen? Nope, nineteen. And as of this writing, twenty. She had a birthday this September.
The viral video, originally just a class project, was uploaded by Lia's mother in February of 2009, more than four months after she turned thirteen, so even in the beginning there wasn't a twelve year old Lia making waves beyond her classroom. Lia is now a public speaker, author, and YouTuber. She speaks against abortion, yes, but she's also branched out into human trafficking and pornography addiction. Yet when you google her, the first thing to come up is her seventh grade homework.
That first video is a basic summary of popular pro-life talking points. Later videos narrow the focus to specific issues in abortion, as well as exploring her new topics. Her recent pro-life work is more sophisticated, but she's forever famous as twelve year old.
Some people get their big break young. When they do, that's more interesting than all their subsequent accomplishments. While Kamkwamba's current engineering career is certainly changing the world more than the two windmills he built in his small boyhood village, reading about a college-educated engineer building things is less impressive than a library-educated fourteen year old rigging up a windmill from junk and dreams. But it does a young people a great disservice to only let the spotlight shine on one moment of their lives. When you render someone as a wunderkind, you're ignoring the fact that they learned and grew and became fantastic adults too.
This doesn't just impact the way we perceive youth in current events, but in history as well. When I first began blogging at age fourteen, some of my very first posts were focused on youth history. Two of my eighth grade heroes were Sybil Ludington and Claudette Colvin. Ludington is known as the "teenage female Paul Revere" and Claudette Colvin is seen as a junior Rosa Parks. Both were teenage girls who committed acts of bravery similar to adults in their time. Sybil Ludington actually rode farther than Paul Revere, and on worse roads in the middle of a rain storm. Claudette Colvin kept her seat on a public bus nine months before Rosa Parks. And after she inspired Parks, Colvin testified in Browder vs. Gayle, the court case that ended Montgomery bus segregation once and for all. Parks was tied up with her own legal proceedings and wasn't able to testify. Even though these young women's accomplishments surpassed their adult counterparts, they play second fiddle. Adults can be famous for their accomplishments. Teenagers are famous for being unfamous.
Let's not pigeon hole the awesome young people of the world as wunderkinds. Teen accomplishments are a special kind of awesome because they were achieved so young, but we're not limited to the successes of our early years. People who start moving and shaking things when they're young can change the world their entire lives.

Twenty Things I'm Going to Do In My Twenties

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1. Graduate college
Get. Me. Out.
2. Enjoy College
"Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured." -Gordon B. Hinckley
And as part of that...
3. Road trip with friends to an away game for my school
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Because every young person should have a chance to go on a road trip with friends.
4. Camp Out at a Football Game
Do I think it's stupid to drag a sleeping bag all the way down to the stadium and freeze on the concrete for 24 hours when you can show up fifteen minutes before kickoff and see the game just fine from a few rows up?
Is that going to stop me from doing it?
5. Dance
I did a little ballroom in high school and picked it up again in college. I'm not naturally talented, but I love it and I set a little freshman dream of joining one of my school's ballroom dance companies. Maybe I'll make it and maybe I'll won't.
6. Go on an international study abroad
I traveled across the country this summer, now I want to see the world. Hey, I need to learn a foreign language as a graduation requirement anyway. Might as well put it to good use.
7. Commit to a student club
Not join. I joined plenty of clubs at the head of freshman year and showed up to one meeting for the free food. Now I get their schedule update emails and I feel guilty. I can't do everything, but I want to find something I love and commit to it.
8. Intern/volunteer with a nonprofit
Lately I've been getting into the pro-life movement in little ways. I've done two service events and I've written some articles for pro-life blogs. But there are other causes I'm interested in too. College is the perfect time to serve. You're old enough to drive and set your own schedule, but you're not yet plugged into family and career obligations. More importantly, you're young enough to want to change the world but old enough to know how you want to do it.
9. Fall in Love
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More than once, probably. I'm not going to put "get married' on here because I take my goals very seriously and I know not everyone gets married in a timely manner. I started a Dear Future Husband diary about a year ago and I'm careful not to write in it often. I've filled up a lot of personal journals in my life, and I can't think of any more pathetic title for a book than Dear Future Husband: Volume 12. I'm going to let real love come to me in its own time.

10. Go to one of the Fancy Dances
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My school does a formal homecoming dance with corsages and everything. I never got to go to homecoming in high school and feel like I should take the chance. If I can't find a suitable date around homecoming season, I want to make it to a Valentine's Day dance just so I can enjoy one more fancy dance like I had in high school.
11. Romantic Alaskan Getaway
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Lots of my Facebook friends, both married and non-married, have gone on Alaskan adventures in the last year. There's something romantic about being at the top of the world.
12. Visit Every Temple in Utah
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Monticello Temple
Temples are houses of worship in the Mormon religion where important rituals are performed, including marriages. That's why I'm putting this goal in between the romance and travel sections of my list. Well, that and another reason. There are sixteen (soon seventeen) temples inside the state of Utah and I've been to seven of them. Most are either within reasonable driving distance or I have a friend who lives nearby, so it won't be such a trek to visit any of them.
Except for the Monticello Temple. It's off in the middle of nowhere. I'm saving it until I'm on the brink of being engaged, and then I'll road trip out there with my fiancee to see if we can stand each other in a car for hours on end.
13. Go Back to Massachusetts
I saw Boston for the first time this summer, but only for two days. Then I had to get back on the bus and trek across ten more states as part of my summer travel study program. I knew before I'd spent so much as an hour in Massachusetts that I wanted to go back. I have family history there, and so many pieces of history that fascinate me-the Salem Witch Trials, the nineteenth century textile mill boom, childhood homes of several famous authors-it's all right there.
14. Take an art class where I get to create
Art class-another graduation requirement. I've held off on taking one because lots of study abroads offer art classes, but those are more "Let's go study the art history of France" classes than "Let's hang out in France and create art" classes. I'm in a floral design class right now and I love having a class devoted to beauty or creativity. Sometime in the future, I want to take another class like that. Maybe glass staining!
15. Write again
I was a writer in high school. I've had to put that off in order to focus on Operation Pass College Classes, but that's the creative work I really love and I want to get back into it. Once I'm back into the swing of it, I want to publish something I write and get paid for it.
16. Have a posse
Sure, I have friends, but I want a pack. You know the type of friends I'm talking about. I want a crew to take me on adventures.
17. Have big, strong, muscly arms
I had great upper body strength as a kid. I could climb a lamp post without using my legs. Now I have weak arms and I've been diagnosed with carpal tunnel. I'm not going to make any "get in shape" or "have a perfect body" goals because I know how those go down. But if I can change one thing in my body, I want strength in my arms again.
18. Work a fun job
I think everybody should work a few different kinds of jobs in their lifetime. First, a job in your early teens to teach you how to handle money, like babysitting or lawnmowing (check). Then your rinky-dinky burger flipping job (check, check). After that, an internship (check) and jobs that build your resume (not check). But somewhere in the middle, I think everyone should work a job that's genuinely fun-either because it involves travel or working with amazing people or just learning a cool skill.
19. Serve a mission
At the beginning of this year, I applied to serve as a missionary for the Mormon church. Complications arose and I wasn't approved to go. Since then, so many people, both the cruel and those with good intentions, have tried to persuade me against going. Turning twenty is hard on me, not just because I'm leaving behind my teen years, but because nineteen is the minimum age and the most common age for girls to receive their mission assignments. All my friends left at that age. Nine months ago, when I got the bad news, I promised myself I'd be out by twenty. Now I have to make that same promise for twenty one.
I'm going to get there. They say I'll never make it but I'm determined to prove them wrong. After graduating college, serving a mission is the greatest goal in my life right now, so I'm going to get there.
20. Be happy!
That's a lot more important than going on a mission, having a boyfriend, traveling, or learning new things. If you can only do one thing well, do that. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Teen Brides and Young Moms: Why Still the Stigma?

Whenever I tell people one of my friends is getting married, I get reactions like "Couldn't talk her out of it, huh?" and "I know wasn't ready that young" and, of course, "How old is she?"
I watched a handful of girls from my graduating class get married during my first year of college. This summer I had the honor of being a bridesmaid in a nineteen year old friend's wedding. Just this Wednesday, I helped another nineteen year old married friend register for classes after taking a semester off to work. And since then, my nineteen year old roommate announced her plans to get married this spring. One of my best friends back home got a proposal three weeks after her eighteenth birthday. All four of those girls are enrolled in college and aiming for degrees. I know other married girls who have chosen not to go to college, and I say good on them. If a degree isn't one of your dreams, why not getting moving on another one?
Trust me, teen brides are well aware of the stigma that comes with getting married young. It takes guts to shop for a wedding dress when you're so fresh out of a graduation gown. (Natasha from Confessions of a Teenage Bridge puts this better than I ever could.)
Whatever criticism or well-intentioned, misguided advice you level at them is nothing new. "Are you pregnant or something? You're too young to know what real love is! This is a big decision-are you really ready for the responsibility?" Teen brides hear that all inside their own heads, they don't need it from you.
Despite centuries of human history, young marriage is no longer a social norm. It seems like the most controversial thing a teenage girl can do is have sex inside marriage.
That's not to say sexually active teens no longer face stigma for their life choices. Oh no. In a day when adult single mothers have gained widespread acceptance and sympathy, teenage moms find themselves in the same state they were a few decades ago. Language that stigmatizes non-married women is vanishing from our vocabulary. In my grandmother's day, these mothers were "unwed". Now they're rebranded as single, the unwed no longer differentiated from divorced or widowed women. Babies aren't "born out of wedlock", they're "unplanned". Kids who are born ten years after their closest sibling obviously weren't planned either, but I never hear this term applied to them. During high school, I had an AP student friend who didn't even know what the word illegitimate meant until our history teacher defined it for us.
40% of all American children are born out of wedlock. But only the teen mothers are considered problematic. Mainstream media glamorizes and normalizes teen sex, but not the children who result from it. Teen motherhood was portrayed in reality TV shows like 16 and Pregnant and Teen Moms, contributing to the family freak show genre, which also includes big family spectacles, like 19 Kids and Counting or Jon and Kate Plus 8.
If unmarried sex no longer carries stigma, why should young motherhood? The difference is age. Just as teens get our very own billboards reminding us not to drink or text at the wheel (though anybody taking those risks while driving can crash a car), ads and awareness campaigns single out pregnant teenagers. Though come to think of it, I see anti-drinking and anti-texting billboards directed at the general public. I've never seen a single poster speaking out against out of wedlock pregnancies as a whole. Just teens. Age, rather than marital status, is considered the source of the problem.

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In 2013, a teen mothers' group made complaints about these ads by The Candies Foundation, an anti-teen pregnancy organization.

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Candies strives to raise 'awareness' of teen pregnancy (who doesn't know teen pregnancy is a thing?) but offers no resources to young women who are already pregnant or parenting.

Yes, younger mothers face a unique set of difficulties. But an unexpected pregnancy at any age will bring challenges. Young motherhood and marriage are still stigmatized while young sex-a consequence of marriage and a precursor to motherhood-is not. Have sex, kids! But don't do it with your husband, and you're not supposed to produce a baby.
Marriage and motherhood are already a whirlwind physically and financially. They don't need to be socially wrenching too. Pursuing a family is a brave, beautiful choice at an early age, and young women should be supported by friends and family as they embark on this road.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Who Lives in the Real World?

College can get claustrophobic. You live in a tiny dorm, apartment, or dumpy house, either on campus or within easy distance of it. If you have a job, you probably work as a campus janitor, campus cashier, or campus research assistant. If you're not employed by the school, you don't have far to go to get to work. I go to a good sized school with a gym, health clinic, grocery store, bank, florist, and laundromat on campus. Most of my social outings are concerts, games, and events put on by school clubs or teams. I don't have much reason to leave.
Our lives are compact and consolidated. But are they any less real than those of people who aren't in college?
In high school, "real world" referred to our post-graduation lives. Now I'm in college, and "real world" refers to life after our second graduation. I can't imagine what it's like to get a Ph D. They'd never get to live in the real world. A few months back I ate lunch with a non-student who was waiting for her husband to finish his shift at the cafeteria grill. She did not work for the school. She worked for a security company, and she said she'd learned a lot about alarm systems in her time there, "But that won't be any use in the real world."
Out of state students refer to the world beyond Utah as the real world. Except for the Hawaiians-their real world is the mainland. So far as I can tell, you can never live in the real world, because the real world is wherever you aren't.
So what is the real world, then?
I'm troubled by the idea that the "real world" can only be inhabited by people who work for money. This excludes children and students and paints them as something other than real people. Even high schoolers with after school jobs are caught up in this "unreal people" designation. If children don't live in the real world, what about retired people? What about people with disabilities, the unemployed? And what about stay-at-home moms?
I've heard too many mothers refer to themselves, ashamedly, as "just a mom". I hear women stress that motherhood is a job, the most important job, and not a job that everyone can do right. Can't a woman's work be valued without putting it in the same category as work-for-pay?
For centuries, the world's most popular occupation was farmer, and you had to live on your farm. Father, Mother, Brother, and Sister all worked the family farm. Then the Industrial Revolution came around, and would-be farmers found jobs in cities. Men would wake up in the home and commute by foot or trolley cart to their workplace. Women continued to stay home. This birthed the idea of the domestic sphere-a separate world for women than men. The man's sphere, of course, was valued more, so it was the woman who didn't live in the real world, though the man was the one to leave. My dad always tells me that he doesn't work because he enjoys it, he does it to support our family. If the workplace world only exists to support the home, doesn't the home have a better claim to be the One Real World? Can there really be only one?
So far as I can figure, the real world is whatever corner of the world isn't relevant to your lifestyle or expertise at any given time. This real world notion devalues people of many ages and stages, but especially young people. If a retired office worker, laid off office worker, and the stay at home wife of an office worker can all live in the real world, so should their sons and daughters. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

My First Protest

Assembling care package materials with other young volunteers outside of Salt Lake City Metro Planned Parenthood
Back in middle school, around the time I started this blog, I was in love with revolution. I listened to music with themes of uprising and victory and watched the Arab Spring unfold on social media. I read histories of labor strikes and the Civil Rights movement and bemoaned being born in a place and time with nothing to protest. I researched issues I was passionate about and expressed my opinions over the Internet, but I wanted the real thing. In my dorm hall last year, I was having a conversation with my hallmates when the topic turned to protest and two of them mentioned causes they'd been involved in back home. As if every high schooler waved a sign at some point. I walked away from that conversation feeling like I was wasting my youth. I write about other teenagers making a difference. Wasn't this the stage of my life where I should be waving signs and crowding courthouse lawns?
Around this time, I started researching abortion and came to feel passionate about the pro-life movement. For a year I researched the science, ethics, and history of the issue. I sent emails, made calls, listened to podcasts, and read all I could to learn more. But only recently did I think to research pro-life groups in my area. I joined a Facebook group and watched the calendar until I found an event that could work with my school schedule.
Today marks the one hundredth anniversary of Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the US. Groups across the country have gathered this week to protest outside of clinics. Pro-Life Utah organized a protest/service project outside a clinic in downtown Salt Lake City. This location does nothing but abortions, women who want other services are directed to a clinic across town. It is one of two advertised abortion clinics in the state. Together, these two clinics are responsible for around 3,000 preborn deaths a year.
Yesterday morning, I drove from my college town to Salt Lake for my first protest. I was nervous. I went alone and didn't know a soul there outside of interactions on Facebook. I had no idea what to expect. I'd told my parents and roommates I was spending the day on a service project so they wouldn't worry. But what if it got out control?
When I pulled up to the clinic, there were no waving fists or shaking signs. The clinic wasn't even open on Saturdays, so there were no customers to confront. Most of the "protest" was focused on providing for a local woman named Bryonna who has cerebral palsy and is facing pressure from doctors and family members to abort her son. We tied a quilt and collected donations to help her buy disability-friendly baby care equipment. We also pinned blankets, wrote notes, and assembled care packages for other women in crisis pregnancies. No shouting. No banners. No crowds. Not counting the media, the women, children, and men in attendance numbered somewhere around twenty. It was a service project, no different than many I've done for school or church, except for the fact that we were on the lawn of an abortion clinic.
There's something romantic about screaming and shaking posters. And those protests serve a purpose. It's important to raise your voice about the things you value, to let the world see you swarm the public square. But any problem that exists in the real, tangible world needs real, tangible action to solve it, not just the chaos and clamor of people expressing their opinions. Maybe a revolution can be as soft as a baby blanket.
Service is just as important as expression, though not as romantic. When you're young, you romanticize change. But young and old people alike can do good in more quiet ways. At age fourteen, I cheered on Syrian revolutionaries fighting to bring down a tyrannical government. At age fifty, my mother has just decided she needs to learn Arabic. She wants to help refugees because she used to be one herself. In fifth grade, her family moved to Iran for my grandfather's work, intending to stay for five years. The revolution forced them out one year later. My mom was allowed to take a single suitcase and a footlocker on the plane home, but both were lost or damaged in transit. She returned to America with almost nothing. Their house had been leased out for the time they planned to spend in Iran, so they had nowhere to live. But they had advantages this influx of refugees doesn't. They were citizens. They had friends. They could speak the language. My mom went on to major in political science because of her experiences and worked for the government before becoming a stay at home mom. Now she feels called to learn a whole new language.
I guess it's never to late to help people and acquire the skills to do so. We might feel like the glory days are always behind us, but there are battles to fight all around you no matter where you live. You don't need to shake your fist to be a catalyst for change.