Columnist Lindsay Sabadosa: The value of kids’ voices 

  • Lindsay Sabadosa takes calls while she and her campaign intern, Laura Britton work on scheduling, and thanking supporters at Sabadosa's office in Northampton. STAFF FILE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Published: 12/21/2018 9:09:39 AM

“How do we get more young people involved?” This seems to be the perennial question of most organizing efforts. It makes sense: We fight for issues that are so important we expect to see an uprising of young people demanding universal health care, debt-free education, climate change mitigation and public transportation that connects them to school, work and home. After all, as the clichéd phrase goes, these issues should matter more to young people because it’s “their future.”

While I’m certainly not the expert in breaking down generational barriers, I knew that I wanted an intergenerational campaign. It would feel deeply disingenuous to claim to represent a district if I were unable to engage people of all ages and backgrounds, and a campaign is nothing if not a preview of one’s tenure. Still, the question remained: how? For me, the answer was making sure to give people space and voice.

When I moved to Northampton with a very tiny baby 12 years ago, I had chosen this community because there seemed to be room for people with small children. I had grown up in a world where children were only welcome in certain venues and only if they were “well-behaved.” By creating a world where kids are only welcome in select places, we are excluding not only children but their parents. We are putting up barriers to participation, denying parents time in community and refusing valuable life experiences to children.

So, rule number one for me is that kids are always welcome. On the campaign, that meant a group of kids coloring on the floor as parents phone-banked. It meant providing child care and a kids’ activity table at events. It definitely meant having lots of snacks on hand. Still, people only participate if they feel welcome, and they only feel welcome if you give them the space to be themselves, to bring their families and to not worry about being judged because of a crying baby or shrieking toddler.

What I didn’t anticipate is that when they feel welcome, kids also want to help. They have a voice, and when they are invited to use it, they do. For days as we were trying to get out our first mailer, child after child asked to help stuff, seal and stamp envelopes — and at one point, the conference room table was filled with kids under 10. We even had one precocious 12-year-old who did “campaign summer camp” for a few weeks, coming in daily to help. It’s not a secret, but when you speak to kids as if their ideas and contributions are valuable (because they are!), they want to participate.

The same holds true for teenagers. In my own limited experience, I have found that while adults like to praise and uplift student organizers, we don’t always want to give them room to do things on their own and in their own way. When the decisions are bigger, adults like to step in, and far too often teenagers retreat. Throughout the campaign, I kept going back to one of the first March for Our Lives organizational meetings. During the first half of the meeting, even though it was both adults and students, only the adults spoke. When we asked the adults to not speak during the second half, the students set up a whiteboard, came up with dozens of ideas, delegated tasks and basically organized the march that many of us attended without much need for help. It’s a good lesson: Sometimes the best way to let someone else find their voice is to be quiet long enough for them to speak.

As a result, teenagers in this community took on real leadership roles during the campaign, organized events, offered input on just about everything from the campaign video to advertisements and led canvassing and phone-banking sessions. Some of my favorite moments were watching teenagers chat with retirees volunteering in the office.

To me, that is community — when younger and older people are working side-by-side and both feel like their contributions are respected and valued.

As Representative-Elect, it is that sense of community — along with a healthy dose of transparency and accountability — that I’m looking forward to bringing to the State House.

Lindsay Sabadosa is a Northampton resident and the Representative-Elect for the 1st Hampshire District: Northampton, Southampton, Westhampton, Hatfield and Montgomery. Her column runs the third Friday of every month. She can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.



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