Now I am attending Is it Activism? Working Against Oppression as Peer Health Educators. Our panelists are all high school students who are part of the Teen Health Initiative for NYCLU, They spent this semester giving a workshop about knowing your health rights in regards to confidentiality, STIs, pregnant and parenting teens, and more to their peers (& they are so awesome!) I feel terrible for not knowing the names of all of the panelists (if you want to take some credit, feel free to comment/email so I can edit that information in!) but the panel is moderated-from-the-audience by Karyn Brownson and Gabriel Johnson.
Reflection After the Workshop
A paraphrased “transcript” is below the cut. Its hard to really sum up everything I learned out of this workshop & I honestly don’t think transcript is the right form for this. I want to say that this organization, one that gives teens control over their learning and teaching is amazing and there should be more like it. I can’t even imagine how different I would be if I had an outlet where I was allowed to be taken this seriously when I was a teenager (as opposed to creeping towards one in college.) Blogging has always (sort of) been that space for me, since on the internet no one knows how old you are until you tell them, but I truly wish the real world took teenagers voices seriously more often.
All of these panelists were so eloquent and confident that they really confirmed this notion for me. Even when we disagreed with each other or two panelists disagreed I was endlessly impressed with the way in which they expressed their disagreement (like when we talked about sexual assault and victim blaming).
Beyond all of this validation and admiration I also appreciated the chance to break activism and social justice down to its most basic components. The following information is a great place to start dealing with any social justice issue (though we were talking about sexual health specifically for most of it.)
What is activism?
- Finding and fixing problems together
- Taking action
- Combating social/economic/religious/educational/racial/sexual/political/environmental injustice
- Creating an educational framework against injustice
- Reflection in action
- A form of healing and coping
Based on all of these things, now we’re going to talk about actions. Are they activism? We got to stand in corners like forced choice!
Community Gardens (Maybe)
Eating a Popsicle (Maybe)
Basically: intentions and goals matter.
Activism is doing something that directly contributes to changing an injustice & bringing your voice into an unjust system. It is important to recognize who you are in the movement and live your values.
How is peer education activism? Creating a more healthy population, correcting the injustice of not being allowed information about our bodies and sexuality in high school/middle school, flint & spark activity/concept that allows information to spread – radicalizing your peers!, breaking the chain of misinformation. Doctors aren’t always certified or qualified to talk about sex, but someone has to… someone with experience reacting and relating properly. “Peers teaching peers can be very powerful because you know what they’re going through.”
Applying Activist Skills
We have to be able to located the causes of injustice… the panelists have a really awesome chart, each of the bullets below are in a circle and we’re using post it notes to determine where injustices (like rape) fall in terms of cause.
- Dominant Social Norms and Values
Locating the source of a problem is complicated and often not clear cut… but it will inform the activism that you do. (For instance, I wouldn’t likely create a petition to fight a dominant social belief and/or value but I would do that for a state or city issue!)
Some of what we’re talking about: higher rates of asthma as a community/state/city/government issue, disordered eating as a dominant social beliefs and values, sexual assault as a dominant social norm/value, community issue, national issue, individual problem (we’re in agreement that this is victim blaming), gender and sexual based violence as a dominant social norm, violence against sex workers as a national issue because the way we legislate sex work in this country feeds into this issue.
Sexual Myths & Oppressions
- Rough sex can break condoms
- Straight people don’t have HIV.
- Two condoms at once is better.
- You can’t get pregnant if you have sex standing up.
- Gay people are evil/being gay is a choice.
- Female bodied people can’t orgasm.
- Women who behave in a certain way are sluts.
- Having sex when on your period prevents pregnancy.
- “Blue waffle.” Totally made up/photoshopped. (Google at your own risk.)
What negative consequences come from these thoughts?
- Sexual Assault
- Condom failures
- Slut shaming
- People disconnected from bodies
- Poor communication with partners
- Being too embarrassed or afraid to share desires.
“We think that these kids of harms are the result of oppression” This is how they define oppression: a person/group experiencing harms because negative beliefs about an aspect of their identity leads to less access to information/resources/etc. In this case, ageism and sexism are coming into play as forms of oppression that keep teens and young adults in the dark. Also, classism because not everyone has the internet as a resource to fill gaps and heteronormativity because even in places with better sex ed information for queer students is often just left out.
We are taking charge of what we’re learning. Education is one form of activism that helps us to create more effective change!
If we all reach out and educate just one other person, we can make a huge difference.