Throughout 2019, SLP will be releasing exclusive interviews from young activists around the country. We believe that no matter your age, you can create real change. Each person featured in this series embodies that belief.
To kick off 2019, we bring you a conversation with Kate Griem, co-director of Teens Resist and a sophomore from Brooklyn, New York.
Tell us a little about yourself: where do you live, are you a student and/or where do you work, do you volunteer in your community?
I’m a sophomore who lives in Brooklyn and attends school in Manhattan. I love sports, and I’m a member of my school’s track and softball teams. In terms of volunteering, I have loved working with World Connect, an amazing nonprofit that partners with local leaders across the world to implement sustainable, community-driven projects in the areas of health, education, business, and environment, specifically impacting women and children. I also love writing, especially writing as a means of creating social change—I’m involved in multiple activism clubs and newspapers in and out of my school.
I’m a co-director, along with Sonia Chajet Wides, of Teens Resist, an online political activism resource aimed at harnessing the (in our minds) immense power and passion Gen Z has and turning it into change. We publish biweekly lists with important news items and corresponding actions, in addition to occasional features and other activism materials.
What is your earliest memory of activism? Was it something you read about or observed, or were you an active participant?
I honestly don’t know what my earliest memory of activism was. I’ve been lucky enough to grow up in a household where activism is generally an integral part of life, and I think that really came into focus in the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election. But I do remember reading a book about Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Notorious RBG) sometime in my late elementary/early middle school years. The way that she used her education, her intelligence, grit, determination, and passion, to argue so many landmark women’s rights cases and break so many barriers—that was almost incomprehensibly amazing to me. From then on, I knew I wanted to have some sort of career like hers, or at least use every tool I had to make positive (hopefully social) change.
How old were you when you first realized that you had the ability to make positive change in your community? What inspired you: was it an event, a book, a person?
I think I was around 13 when I first realized I was capable of making positive change in my community. It was a few different factors that inspired me. One of them was Hillary Clinton. Seeing her break the glass ceilings she had to, to get as far as she did, and seeing her pitted against someone who epitomized almost everything wrong with this country—I had never wanted anything as badly as I wanted her to win. So I started making calls, going to protests, coordinating with friends, even using social media as a platform for activism. On that note, the second major factor that made me realize I could create change was who surrounded me—it was my friends. Seeing my own passion mirrored in those around me made me believe for the first time that what I was doing could actually matter.
Tell us about a social problem that you would like to help solve, or are already working to help solve.
One social problem that I would really like to help solve is the constantly threatened state of women’s reproductive rights, and the lack of access that a lot of women have to vital medical and reproductive services. There is so much to say about this topic, but here are some of the basics. Women have never had access to all that they deserve in terms of birth control, healthcare coverage, and abortion access. Under Trump, this problem has worsened. For example, the global gag rule, which prevents foreign non-governmental organizations supported by the US from providing abortions, was expanded. An Obama-era birth control mandate, which previously required employers to offer insurance that covered birth control, was rolled back. The Trump administration constantly attacks Planned Parenthood and Medicaid, and the Department of Health and Human Services recently implemented a new “Conscience and Religious Freedom” division that essentially allows health care workers to deny coverage on the basis of a moral objection, paving the way for bias. Additionally, the US still does not universally guarantee paid maternity leave. This issue extends far, far beyond the Trump and even the US.
Women across the world, specifically in rural and low-income areas, lack access to even the most basic birthing services, and maternal death rates are astoundingly high. Lack of contraceptive access keeps women from finishing their educations in a lot of countries as well, creating a vicious and hard-to-break cycle. The list of problems related to women’s sexual and reproductive rights goes on, but I hope that someday women will have full control over their own bodies. I believe that a key initial step to solving this problem is legislation. Honestly, like many other social problems, it seems dauntingly large, but I hope and believe it will be solved someday!
Do you think it’s important for children and teens to be engaged in civic engagement programs like SLP? Why?
I literally cannot emphasize enough how important it is for children and teens to be civically engaged. (That’s what Teens Resist is all about.) It sounds a little cheesy to say, but it’s true: youth are the future. The more we educate and involve ourselves now, the more prepared we’ll be to vote, run for office, volunteer, anything and everything else. The world we help shape now is the world we’ll live in, and we are responsible for making it the best it can be. Aside from thinking about the future, we do have the power to make change right now—that, at least, we’ve seen through movements like the student-driven gun control movement after the horrific Parkland shooting. In my opinion, youth political and social engagement are the key to the future of activism (I might be biased by the fact that I’m a teenager, but still).
If you could give SLP students and other young activists one piece of advice, what would it be?
Always remember that no action is too small to make a difference; every single thing you do really does matter. Make a call to a legislator; go to a protest; write a postcard; get you voice out on social media; volunteer in your community; anything and everything else!! Also, try to never fall into the hole of “I’m inadequate, I’m not doing enough” or the hole of “the world is so messed up that nothing I do will matter anyway.” It’s really hard to see it sometimes, but neither of those things are true.