19 Young Activists Changing America

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A vibrant grass-roots progressive movement is winning victories, raising awareness and changing lives in every part of the country, but you might not know that if your main source of information is mainstream media. In the midst of a widening economic divide, a corporate assault on working families’ living standards and the right-wing tea party grip on the Republican Party, millions of Americans are fighting back in their neighborhoods, workplaces and voting booths to challenge the plutocracy and restore democracy.

Many of these efforts have been led by baby boomer veterans of the civil rights, anti-war, women’s rights, consumer safety and environmental movements. But in the past decade, a new generation of activists – born after 1960 – has stepped into leadership. Like the change makers who came before them, these activists know that the radical ideas of one generation are often the common-sense ideas of the next: They are practical idealists.

Who are the young radicals and reformers among us now whose names may not be well-known to the general public, but whose activism is leading the country in a more progressive direction? We have collected a sampling here and would love to hear about other activists you would add to the list.

  • North Carolina NAACP
  • People United for Sustainable Housing
  • Coalition of Immokalee Workers
  • Center for Community Change
  • Battleground Texas
  • L.A. Alliance for a New Economy
  • International Union League for Brand Responsibility
  • Green For All
  • United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers Union
  • National People’s Action
  • Jobs With Justice and Caring Across Generations
  • New York City Council
  • Indigenous Environment Network
  • National Domestic Workers Alliance
  • Health Care for America Now
  • Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles
  • Making Change at Wal-Mart
  • Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment

Peter Dreier teaches politics and chairs the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His latest book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012).
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  • Anonymous

    I’ve been activating for years and thought all of my rants were landing on deaf ears. I do not claim to have made any big difference, but hope that the contributions I have made to progressive thinking – opening up readers to new truths – has had some beneficial effect on someone somewhere. I’m so happy there are young activists fighting for the right direction our country should be taking.

  • Nancy

    How about Annabel Park, & Egberto Willies?

  • Lance Diskan

    It may just be necessary to protect the night in order to save the day.
    Around our nation and the world there is a growing network of activists working to preserve natural night – the ONLY ecosystem shared by every member of humanity. It’s not simply an ability to see the stars; it’s a vital matter of human health, animal welfare, management of limited natural resources and protection of an essential cosmic sustenance. While the urban lights we see on the Earth’s surface from space may seem beautiful, they are in fact wasted electricity generated by wasting precious water while simultaneously emitting toxic waste into the atmosphere. That light is not being used, it’s simply taxpayer dollars being thrown at the sky. But unlike other types of environmental degradation, control of light-pollution requires no technological miracle nor immense capital investment nor destructive extraction nor expensive transport nor isolated byproduct-storage to remedy. Simple public education and some actions on the local level can help lower costs and achieve a nighttime inheritance for future generations to enjoy. There’s no need to hurtle backwards into the 17th Century and live in pitch-blackness – just a willingness to adopt more-efficient, less-invasive lighting infrastructure. From THE FLAGSTAFF DARK SKIES COALITION to THE INTERNATIONAL DARK SKY ASSOCIATION to ASTRONOMERS WITHOUT BORDERS to THE WORLD AT NIGHT, etc. people of all nationalities, ages, incomes, races and political stripes are working to make policymakers acknowledge that natural darkness is necessary for human survival – and good for a more-efficient management of public funds. The Occidental College Department of Urban & Environmental Policy should shine a spotlight (fully-shielded of course !) on The Armies of the Night.

  • Bethanne Hull

    Activism on local issues is never easy. Please don’t be dismissive of people who focus their efforts to move us forward, often at significant personal sacrifice, just because they havn’t choosen to follow your particular framework.

  • Anonymous

    Local issues are neither easy nor (as you imply) “unreal” activism. The website you link to has nothing but some new-age mystical mumbling, unrelated to activism or even to rational thought. The local activist who works to get people registered and drives them to the polling place is doing something concrete and positive. The local activist who collects books and distributes them to homeless children is doing something concrete and positive.
    Spamming websites with your vacuous philosophy is both easy and useless.

  • Tom Kitt

    If one addresses the root problem the symptoms disappear. We must question belief – just sayin’.

  • Tom Kitt

    Activism on local issues are important but activism on universal issues are critical. The ‘framework’ must become inclusive.

  • Anonymous

    Congratulations Bill, you managed (almost) to balance off the genders here on your list. I’m glad you recognize the problem of men getting recognized on these blog sites and traditional media today.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, in other words, be as enlightened as the French today. They get that the state is for the people, not the corporations or their plutocrats. (Not intended as ironical.)

  • Anonymous

    I wish more of my students were like these. Many of them think Ayn Rand is the cat’s meow.

  • Benjamin Wood

    Some good choices in there, but it seems like everyone is drawn from within the ranks of the NPIC. I’d be interested in seeing profiles of individuals who do amazing social justice work but are able to do so without relying on the timelines and grant objectives imposed by the foundations–who do what they do and do it autonomously.

  • dd

    I find most supporters of Ayn Rand never actually read any of her books all the way through.

  • George Cassutto

    Add Heather Mizeur, Maryland state delegate and gubernatorial candidate.

  • Anonymous

    What do folks here think about wolf-pac.com ? It seems like a good place to start,,, on the state level?

  • Anonymous

    Wonder if they’d still be purring knowing that anti-government Rand (named for her typewriter, her real name was Alisa Zinovievna Rosenbaum) received Social Security and Medicare under her married name Ann O’Connor (husband Frank O’Connor). She needed Medicare for lung cancer treatment; she was a heavy smoker who didn’t believe it caused cancer.

  • Anonymous

    I would not consider a country that still practices the barbarism of bullfighting as ‘enlightened. Au contraire!

  • Anonymous

    you sure you don’t mean Spain?
    Anyway, what about our dog fights–surely more gruesome!

  • Anonymous

    Mesmereyes–See my comment above, it was meant for you. Sorry about that.

  • Anonymous

    Some truisms. This is common knowledge. What makes her book so remarkable?

  • Anonymous

    I live in Green Valley, Arizona. We have no street lights, only small lights by the garage doors. We can see the Milky Way easily at night. We also have no telephone poles on most streets.
    This is not entirely because the Tucson area is so much for low light on its own. It’s because the astronomy industry is so big here. Several famous telescopes within the area. Mt Hopkins is only ten miles away. The U.of A. is into astronomy also. It’s as much for employers as it is for ecology. Nonetheless, we qualify for low light!

  • Jay Schmidt

    What’s remarkable is that she is calling on Americans to take action to restore their constitutional values before they suffer the same fate. It is not common knowledge by the majority, brainwashed by the corporate media propaganda.

  • Anonymous

    How could anybody read her nonfiction? As for her fiction, I claim ignorance. Once I learned the plots it was a total turnoff.
    The radfems should try to ban her books as living up to the negative stereotype of light-headed women who can’t think conceptually. They must be an embarrassment to them–no wait, most radfems wouldn’t know the difference. I got it!

  • Anonymous

    Sad to say but she is popular among the youth now. I’m thinking in particular of a young East Asian student who gave a speech about it in my public speaking class. I was kind to her, since I like young people, but I believe my words were, “I’ve never read anybody who I disagree with more–on almost every sentence she writes.”

  • Anonymous

    Sorry, Jay, I like your photo icon, but the American majority don’t read books! She’d have to create a reality show to get our fellow patriots to get interested. Maybe “The Housewives of Academe.” Has a ring to it.

  • Jay Schmidt

    Glad you like my icon, Shadeseeker. The activist Naomi Wolf told a panel of activists they need to spend less time in the streets and more time on CNN. “I’m sorry to have to play this role,” said Wolf as she scolded the
    Occupy movement for not harnessing the mainstream media as well as they could have.

  • CLM1

    Locally, it’s John Washington, Bonny Mahoney, Bob Albini (now in Boston), Jim Anderson, Rita Yelda, Occupy.

  • Anonymous

    When young people get active and involved, there is hope.

  • Karen B.

    Tim Nafziger and his wife, Charletta Erb are committed to peaceful activism that brings about social justice and environmental change worldwide. Tim is the Interim Assistant Director for Christian Peacemaker Teams (http://cpt.org/). I am proud to know them.

  • C A Waxman

    I would hope that the parents and relatives of those who died at Sandy Hook, CT who are going on a regular, commuter basis to visit
    Congress in the fight to have logical gun control legislation passed be part of the list of young activists. These young people are going
    beyond those of us who marched and wrote letters. They are dedicating their lives to save future lives without eliminating the
    amendment supporting the right to bear arms!

  • Jle

    Add Johnny from Los Angeles. He is raising water awareness.

    http://kck.st/H6LPDQ

  • Francis Mangels

    May I nominate Dane Wigington and the scientist Francis Mangels for their data research and activism on nanoparticle damage to the USA food supply, health, and ozone layer. They have also proven the patented Welsbach material is actively sprayed as an aerosol by Military jets and is apparently causing drought in the American West. Their data is on geoengineeringwatch.org and the best paper summary is only 3 pages of 100 items “Geoengineering What We Know.”

  • bobcat4evah

    Wishing them all the best, thanking them with all my heart.

  • Sandy Herndon

    I would like to nominate Andrea Brower of Kauai, who has been fighting for social & political justice for most of her 20-something years. She has been very active in alternative food and global social justice
    movements, and spent several years co-directing the non-profit Malama
    Kauai in Hawaii, where she is originally from. She most recently took a hiatus from her PhD program at Auckland University to address the Pesticide/GMO battle going on her beloved Island home. She has written insightful and inspiring articles for the Huffington Post ( Sept 6, 2013 and Oct 11, 2013) and YES! magazine (http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/love-and-the-apocalypse/what-to-say-when-they-say-it-s-impossible). We are very proud of this young activist here on Kauai, where she has focused attention on our families in the Chemical Seed Agribusiness belt, who are dealing with Cancer clusters and a higher rate of birth defects, and helped bring our plight to the world stage. You can “google” her for more information. Mahalo for the opportunity to recommend her for your list!

  • edmbin

    I would like to nominate Annabel Park and Eric Byler of Story of America. Check out their website. They are award winning documentary film makers. storyofamerica.org http://www.youtube.com/user/StoryofAmerica Please check them out.

  • Anonymous

    I would like to nominate Mr. Bill Johnsen for all of his working in bringing the struggles of those effected by the Hurricane Sandy to light. He is also a activists with Occupy Wall Street @ http://s17ows.org/justice-for-sandy-victims/

  • MidBosque

    I admire the grassroots activists working to take the world #BeyondCoal in favor of 21st century wind, solar, geothermal, and other sources of sustainable power. If they succeed there is a fighting chance to prevent the worst effects of climate change for those who come after us.

  • Kathryn

    I would second this as a young woman who has worked and played with Mandy Hancock Anderson for about 5yrs now. She is a truly inspiring movement builder!

  • Deborah Papperman

    I recommend Pamela Boyce Simms. Please visit these links for more information:

    http://transitionmidatlantic.org

    https://www.facebook.com/pamela.boycesimms?hc_location=stream

    Pamela is a mover and a shaker operating with clarity of intention, focused direction and greater vision mobilizing individuals and communities in the Hudson Valley, NY., and the Mid Atlantic region of the US. Communities are waking up as they are inspired by her tireless ground work whose ripple effect spreads much like the root network of trees intertconnecting within our forests.

  • Thales

    It should look familiar — it’s the Progressive Playbook.

  • Joe Imbriano
  • Anonymous

    The USA imprisons too many, including locking up 16 year old children for life -no parole! You should read The Guilty Innocent by Shannon Adamcik goo.gl/TG5cn iTunes goo.gl/YFOsZ Amazon, about the wrong conviction of Torey who had just turned 16, now 23 and still serving LWOP in Idaho.

  • Bill Goldsbury

    I nominate Madison Kimry, a voting rights activist from North Carolina. She’s only 12 years old but she’s taking on the governor and the newly passed voting restriction laws of her state. Check out her speech on YouTube at a protest rally last Monday in Burlington, NC.
    courtesy of storyofamerica.org: http://www.storyofamerica.org/

  • Anonymous

    I nominate Joan Blade, co-founder of Moms Rising. Did you know that even as late as 1967, the Encyclopedia of Philosophy had ZERO entries for the infants, babies, mothers, fathers, families, and only had four entries concerning children? In other words, for thousands of years, the men who pondered human nature, and the human condition didn’t think that one’s early years had much to do with it (Gopnik). Yet, recent discoveries in technology are allowing us to understand that the biodevelopmental framework formed in our first years greatly determine adult physical and mental health outcomes (see the Harvard Center on the Developing Child) affecting economic, social, and individual contributions to our communities. Yet, motherhood and early childhood care still silently carry the stigmatization of “woman’s work.” While over half of child care providers have a college degree, and a third of those hold a masters, the average salary is around $22 k per year (NSECE). Those who refuse to leave children for more lucrative careers are made to suffer the consequences of defying the status quo. When will good men open their eyes to the sacrifices that so many women make every day, in the name of taking care of the next of the next generation …and in working towards a better world? When will you support and join us?

  • Anonymous

    She’s right. They did goof-ball around most of the time, having lectures for themselves and “finding themselves” while on the streets. I don’t think this generation of whipper-snappers knows what a protest means. Apparently they come together and talk about themselves.
    Of course the media was happy to oblige them by ignoring them.

  • CLM1

    There are activists all over the country who would not want to be singled out because they are part of a commited team who realize that it is the mass of us, not the individuals, working together to achieve the objectives of getting money out of politics, stopping the wars and promoting renewable energy. That group is called Occupy. We have been malaigned by the mainstream media. The general public does not know how large and effective we are. All they see or hear about is what the moneyed media wants the public to see. We work with other organizations who support our objectives, too, though. These would include Peace Center, Coalition for Economic Justice, 350.org, Sierra Club, Move To Amend. People think Occupy is dead. That is what the media want you to think. We are still here, protesting and working more behind the scenes to get things done and to shut down this plutocracy.There are even some occupiers running for local offices now. I nominate Occupy as activists of the year – again. We are everywhere. We work in every occupation, even government and at all levels of education.

  • Dane

    I admire these young people for standing up, I came from the baby boomer generation, and feel like many of them sold us out.

  • Ras Ible

    The cannabis movement has spawned many good activist in the battle to end prohibition.

  • Karen Lane

    A UU! We are working hard up here in Maine, too!