Youth Civic Engagement, 21st-Century Style

Youth Civic Engagement, 21st-Century Style

American Flag

This Fourth of July is, for me, distinguished by the recent victory on immigration reform in the Senate. (Though we now must wait and hope for the House to move.)

I am excited and inspired by the ways youth and advocates have used social media and Web 2.0 to mobilize and empower young people to join the push for comprehensive reform. 

A great example is the National Council of La Raza’s current online campaign called “Share Your Immigration Story,” which lets visitors to the site post their thoughts about immigration on an interactive map of the United States. You can click on pins spread across the map to read different stories. Coleman, a 15-year-old from Colorado, writes, “People come from other countries to [the United States] for a reason. To be free and to have a good life. They come here to have a dream and pursue what they love. That is why I think that the U.S. Government should make the process of being a legal citizen a lot easier and a lot cheaper in terms of money.” Wow. Without access to the Internet, Coleman would not be able to share his impassioned insights.

ZeroDivide’s recent work with young people—our Health Action Leadership Fellows program—is empowering young California leaders to use social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram to improve their communities.

Another campaign I’m watching closely is United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the nation. United We Dream is a powerful example of a campaign that organizes youth both online and on the ground to support immigration reform. What impresses me most about United We Dream is that the organization is allowing youth to frame the immigration issue themselves, as opposed to taking cues from the traditional media.

Although detractors say that social media has led to slacktivism—the easy online gestures, such as a Facebook “Like,” that have little practical effect—there is activism that takes place online, such as donor drives and call-your-legislator campaigns, that have real, measurable impacts on organizations’ bottom lines and the way politicians vote. As the Swedish division of Unicef has said, “‘Likes’ don’t save lives,” but Likes and other social media actions can help build momentum for real social change.

Immigration reform is getting support from advocates, of course, but also from a wide swath of Americans across the political spectrum who understand the economic imperatives. Youth across the country with access to the Internet have the tools they need to share their stories, organize friends and family, contact their elected officials and make real change.

To celebrate this Fourth of July, may I suggest a video, produced by The Dream is Now.

Mike Rubio is a program manager at ZeroDivide with more than 15 years of experience in youth development and youth organizing, cross-sector collaboration, and planning and implementation of large-scale community development efforts.

edemocracy, Youth, civic engagement, e-advocacy