NYRA Twin Cities: From Start to Success
Hello, my name is Amy O’Connell, I am the chapter leader of NYRA Twin Cities. I started NYRA Twin Cities when I was in middle school. I got involved in NYRA in 2011 after a teacher at my middle school was complicit in a bullying problem and I searched for “youth rights” to see if I had grounds to sue them. Sadly, the results I got did not give me the information I needed to know whether or not I could sue them, but instead showed results for websites about the youth rights movement.
NYRA was one of them, but because it is a D.C. based organization, I felt distant from the action as NYRA and so I started my chapter, NYRA Twin Cities, The first meeting for NYRA Twin Cities was on Sunday, February 5th, 2012 via video chat. Most of the new members that joined my chapter were connected to me via the NYRA membership list. An email blast about my chapter was sent out to the Twin Cities members of the NYRA membership list, and from that email blast, I got two of the founding members, Ashley and Robin, who are great friends of mine to this day.
After starting the chapter, I had to learn how to set up a business social media presence for my chapter. This was actually perhaps the easiest part as Facebook and Twitter both have great articles about how to set up a social media presence. What was challenging was at the time, I had not heard of the program GIMP, which means that I did all of the graphic design for my chapter in MS Paint. This was challenging, and very time consuming, but I was okay with how it turned out:
My parents have been supportive of my political views, but they are very afraid of activism and protesting to this day, and as so I had to transport myself to the in-person meetings. My saving grace for transportation was my blue push scooter. The library was very close to my house, so it was very simple for me to just go places. Because of this, I don’t really see cars as a symbol of youth liberation the same way that some of my peers do. I see my legs and my blue scooter as the ultimate symbols of youth liberation, with the internet coming in close second. It’s very interesting how the youth rights movement has altered my perception of the world. Because of the youth rights movement, I really internalized that it is not time that creates wisdom, but time use. Because of that, I really used my time to the fullest. I think I am one of the few people who wouldn’t want to travel back in time to change my past, because I know I used my time as well as I could.
Where my youth rights career has really helped me though, is in social media marketing. My close friends and I are going to try starting a YouTube channel, and just recently, I set up the YouTube account, a Twitter account, a Facebook page, an email address for fanmail, and turned a paper drawing of a logo by my friend into a beautiful web graphic. I even have been able to improve on the NYRA Twin Cities logo.
As young people in the youth rights movement, there’s often a pressure to prove that you are an adult, and this was especially true for me when I was able to become a NYRA board member. The drive to prove that you are an adult can be very stressful, especially due to all of the ageist social constructs that ultimately prevent you from doing a lot of things that adults don’t even think about. I even felt like I was battling my own schedule, I was brutally aware of the fact that there was nothing I could do to help NYRA while I was sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher drone on about the delightful powers and real world applications of the quadratic equation. I was also brutally aware of the fact that a quadratic equation in no way would help me fill out a non-profit corporate tax form, or raise funds, or even eloquently convey ideas in a board meeting. The truth is, I wasn’t an adult. But the adult itself is a mythos of society. To try to be an adult is to try to be god. The truth was, the other board members sitting next to me had jobs, and had the same amount of confusion that I did over taxes. The truth is that nobody is an adult. The adult is a mythos to justify the oppression of youth. Adults vote stupidly, drive stupidly, behave stupidly after dark, and do stupid things with alcohol. The media message of a capable adult is a lie. What I realized was that we are all humans and that we are all fallible. It’s not that young people are capable of becoming adults; rather it is that adults do not exist.
One thing I realized about youth rights, that isn’t recognized by a lot of other youth rights supporters, is that when other people are being ageist, they generally have ulterior motives, and usually those ulterior motives have something to do with biases against other groups. Intersectionality is as much important in the youth rights movement as it is in any of the modern movements like #BlackLivesMatter, or modern feminism, perhaps even more so. I can guarantee you that a gas station with a sign about only two teenagers at a time isn’t focusing on white teenagers.
The one big thing that NYRA Twin Cities has done, was it partnered with an organization called “The Hitting Stops Here” and protested for a bill to be passed that would make child abuse illegal. I was unable to participate in most of the protests that my chapter did due to my parental situation, but there are lots of important things that a youth rights supporter can do that isn’t out in the field with a piece of poster board taped to a fence post. Sometimes it’s the little things that matter, like discussing youth rights with friends and relatives.
My advice for anyone that is starting a new chapter is actually very practical: learn how to ride the bus. The bus system will give you both freedom, and a more important skill, the ability to have a more realistic fear of strangers. In activism, it is important to meet many people that share your views. It is also important to be safe. The bus will teach you both. That is the one thing I would go back in time to teach my middle school self, how to ride the bus. Ultimately though, I think the best advice I can give you, is to not be afraid to fail. Failure is an inevitable side effect of being human. You will fail, but it won’t be as bad as you think.
If you would like to join NYRA Twin Cities, you should message us on our Facebook page. We are currently working on lowering the voting age.