High School Students Lead Activism Training

3/14/2019

By Grace O’Connor

Hebron, CT – Regional Hebron, Andover, and Marlborough (RHAM) High School’s Activism club hosted an event at Gilead Congregational Church called “Activism Boot Camp” recently. The event was structured as a training for individuals seeking to become involved or increase their involvement in various forms of activism.  Audience members represented all age groups with a large range of activism experience that included community leaders and members of the general public.

RHAM Activism is a group of students from RHAM High School in Hebron, CT.  Co-presidents Skylar Haines, a high school senior and member of Gilead Congregational Church, and Abbey Perrin, also a senior, were inspired to form the club after attending a listening forum following the Parkland, FL shooting in February 2018.  The club was created with goals of providing a supportive community and effective tools for individuals with a desire to get involved in activism.  “It was important to us to create a classroom fostering voices for any and all topics, and teach others what we have learned about how to be an effective, and empowered activist” says Skylar.

The training began by inviting participants to write down reasons they believe prevent themselves or others from engaging in activism. Papers with the reasons were hung on the wall and then symbolically “torn down,” leaving space for attendees to have conversations and use their voices as a “superpower”.  

Senator Cathy Osten of District 19 then gave a brief presentation about her role in the community and how she connects with her constituents so their voices can be heard.  She is in constant conversation with constituents through events in the community, phone calls, emails, individual meetings, and on social media.  Osten encouraged those wishing to discuss issues of concern with her to get in touch using any of these methods.

Members of RHAM Activism proceeded to introduce several methods of activism, with tips for each one on ways to ensure its effectiveness.  When testifying in person or in writing, or when writing a letter to the editor of a publication, they advised keeping it short and concise, striving to stand out among others, and properly educating oneself about all sides of the issue. 

Social media can be an important tool to accompany other forms of activism, but the group stressed that effective activists must always keep in mind who their audience is when making posts online.  They also warned not to fall into the “illusion of activism” and encouraged doing more to get involved than just sharing a post on social media.  For youth looking to get started in activism, they recommended dosomething.org, and anyone seeking volunteer and involvement opportunities they directed to unitedway.org.

Participating in phone banking is another way to be an activist.  RHAM Activism shared that this is a great way to make personal connections and to network with potential volunteers and voters regarding one’s cause.  Canvassing out in the community is a similar method that can be very effective and rewarding as well.

The final topic of activism discussed at the training was protesting.  Recommendations for future protestors included using effective signs that are catchy, concise, and relatable; having a peaceful and present state of mind to cultivate productive conversations with all sides; and to view the protest as a networking opportunity.  They also advised not to waste time talking to someone who is unwilling to listen and have an effective conversation.

The members of RHAM Activism believe activism looks different for each person.  Skylar reflects on this concept, saying “God has granted each of us with incredible talents and gifts, so I would encourage everyone to truly think about what you are passionate about and what your talent is… activism looks different to everyone, but everyone has the capacity to be an activist”.  The broad introduction this event presented to several different tools an activist may use was consistent with this message, providing something for every kind of activist. 

Grace O’Connor is a UConn student assisting the Conference with ministry program support as an intern through the Urban Semester program.