By Claire Howe
For some time now, I have worked side-by-side with some of the most inspiring, committed, and passionate activists I have ever known… who just happen to be teenagers.
In 2014, through my work as a humane educator at H.E.A.R.T, I began facilitating animal rights clubs at Franklin and Cleveland High Schools in Portland, Oregon. Simple concept: club meetings were held once a week, during lunch, discussion topics and activities ran the animal rights gamut, and periodically, we’d embark on a field trip or volunteer outing. While I was incredibly impressed by the passion of these young people, it didn’t take long for me to realize that there was a desperately lacking sense of community, even in a receptive place like Portland, among young animal rights activists. Yet, as a united front and with the requisite support, these people could be an unstoppable force for good.
Over time, the clubs built traction and developed fundraising tactics that allowed a group of members and I to attend the 2016 Animal Rights National Conference. That was a pivotal moment for us. We realized that youth activists were wildly underrepresented and without a deeper sense of community, not just in Portland, but in the modern-day animal rights movement. Then and there, we decided to do something. Together, we consolidated the existing clubs and with H.E.A.R.T’s continued and gracious support, created Youth for the Voiceless, a stand-alone non-profit organization that unabashedly recognizes young people, not just as devoted activists, but as bright, innovative leaders in an evolutionary movement to create a kinder world.
Youth for the Voiceless is comprised of teenage leaders as well as adult “consultants”, making us a truly youth-lead organization with a sustainable capacity for longevity. Our mission is simple, and our strategy is engaging. We aim to amplify the voices of youth animal rights activists through story-telling. Every month, we feature the story of a different young person. Recounted experiences can be about anything from a childhood companion animal to a young person’s journey into veganism, and narrative devices can take a vast variety of forms: songs, poems, recipes, fashion, pictures, spoken word, you name it – whatever device is most appealing and compelling for the storyteller. From these stories, we generate a new campaign every month and amplify youth voices by using a platform that is already widely accessible and hugely popular: Instagram. In addition to leading powerful, far-reaching social media campaigns, we host advocacy-based and community-building events every month in Portland, creating meaningful opportunities for young people to build important relationships with fellow change-makers their age.
Born out of a H.E.A.R.T. program, Youth for the Voiceless also takes a holistic approach to animal protection and recognizes that no one issue facing animals lives in a vacuum. Everything is connected, and by addressing issues that impact human beings and our natural world alongside those that affect animals, Y4V aims to create an all-inclusive, intersectional movement for kindness and compassion for all.
While we often hear that “youth are the future” or that young activists are “the next wave of the movement”, we respectfully beg to differ. At Youth for the Voiceless, we believe that youth activists ARE the movement. They are bright, passionate, and capable. They are open-minded, energetic innovators. They possess a profound ability to think critically and problem solve. And…among us, they have the most at stake. Young people not only deserve to be heard, they must be heard. And Youth for the Voiceless will allow them to do just that.
***From all of us at Youth for the Voiceless, we’d like to extend our sincerest gratitude to the incredible team at H.E.A.R.T for their generous support and tireless work to make the world a better place. Thank you for believing in us. We will never stop believing in you.