How to be seen and heard as a young person in America

Jalen Thompson is a first-year music education major at Colorado State University, and grew up in O’Fallon, Missouri. He has been recognized and interviewed by national media for his impact as an emerging young political activist and organizer. 

“You’re meant to be seen, not heard.”

That was one thing I never understood as a child: the assertion that as kids, and until we’re well into adulthood, our opinions don’t matter.

It encourages apathy. It pauses creative thinking, and slows the process of the young mind to a halt. It leads to ignorance about what changes need to be made in our society, and within our government policy. The brilliant young generations of our country, who are the ones that have to live through the future we create, are often made to feel as though their voices are silent.

But our voices, as college students, high school students, and even middle school students, can be heard. Loud and clear. There are a few big ways that the newer generations can demand to see their opinions taken seriously. Some you’ve definitely heard, but others may be new.

Turn out the vote

As a young person, a minority, or a part of the LGBTQ+ community, we see the world differently than most people in the United States do. For this reason, we should lead every other group in turnout at the election booth.

For those who have lost their lives or been silenced to give us the simple right to vote, we have to turn out. For those that are too young to vote on these issues, we have to turn out. This is something that historically we have not been able to come together to accomplish.

There are many reasons for this. Voter suppression, apathy, and even lack of understanding on how to vote. But, if we don’t fight to show that we want our votes counted, then those in charge will never feel inclined to solve our issues. If we can’t be a substantial force on whether or not these men and women make it into office, then they will never see our pain as legitimate.

Showing up is just the start

So what if we do shift the disposition of the young voter on showing up to the polls? It doesn’t and can’t stop there. In this year alone, we’ve seen the power of the country coming together on an issue regardless of whether or not the politicians in power seem to care.

When the people speak, politicians are forced to move. We have seen protests all across the country this year, in the wake of the deaths of Breonna Taylor, who was shot to death in her own bed; George Floyd, who died with a knee on his neck, crying out for his mother; and even  Elijah McClain, who was killed here in Colorado last year after someone called the Aurora Police on him while he was simply walking home.

An outcry for the empowered to listen to the ignored. But what has it changed? Policy and the opinions of the government seem to remain the same. So why do I feel this time of activism is different?

Actions of the citizens

Well, that would be the actions of the citizens within the United States. When thousands of people are calling for change, whether they’re young or old, or black or white, those in power will be forced to listen.

This election, no matter who you support, the candidates have all been made aware of the issues at hand and it is up to us to hold them accountable for how they’ve responded to those issues.

This moves me to talk about what I personally feel is the most important step for anyone when attempting to stay engaged in social and political issues. This is one that everyone should be using but the younger generations have already begun to excel at.

This would be bringing this conversation into everyday life. In the past, athletes have been told that they shouldn’t speak on important issues, kids have been told that learning about government politics is inappropriate and not needed, and many people feel the work it takes just isn’t worth it.

Have the conversation

But I see now more than ever a use of social media and protest to speak out against injustice. We have to make this conversation, albeit an uncomfortable one, something we are talking about more often. If we can make it a part of everyday life, more people will find it routine and the voter turnout can be raised among young people.

So if you don’t remember anything else from what I’ve written here, just remember that no matter how often they say we’re here to be seen not heard, we are the only ones with the power to control the volume of our voice.