The events of 2016 galvanised a generation of young Americans to speak out — we spotlight the activists organising for real change in the last of a three part series
Part of Dazed's Activism Week, focusing on a new generation of creatives rising up in a post-Trump world
When President Trump won the 45th US Presidential election in 2016, the New York Times declared it “a stunning repudiation of the establishment.” And yet for many on the afternoon of November 8, it felt like progress had suddenly been set in reverse. Many of Trump’s native New Yorkers took to the streets with banners and flaming effigies — symbols of resilience and revolt in the face of impending doom.
As protests continue to ignite across America this year, we platform a young generation taking charge of their nation’s future — from protecting trans rights in the prison system, to standing in the way of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“As a kid, it is hard for me to make my voice heard in a world that adults run. But I will never stop fighting until changes are made” – despite his tender age, gender-neutral activist Spencer Prevallet attends rallies, supports the LGBTQ+ community and actively protests wrong in the world.
Tell me about your political activism - when did you start going to rallies?
I have been to many rallies in my life, including a climate change march, a Trump protest, and a Black Lives Matter/anti-police brutality march. I don't go to rallies often as it is hard for me to get to a place where marches are happening, but whenever I have the chance I make sure I make myself heard, whether it be through a sign or just amplifying my voice. I attend these rallies with my parents, and I have been going since I was a baby.
How did you react to Trump’s election victory?
There are many words that represent how I feel about Trump's victory in the 2016 election, yet my mind is still unable to process how he managed to win. Whenever I think about it, it reminds me how much our world has yet to change. The man is a bigot, a bully, yet there are still people who agree with the things he believes in.
As someone who identifies as gender neutral, do you feel the community seems more unified as a result of the election?
Being a member of the LGBTQ+ community and identifying as gender neutral, I have experienced negativity towards me in my life. What I am now terrified of is whether that negativity will increase and put me in danger. I know about the hate crimes towards transgender and LGBTQ+ people that are going on across the country, and I can't help but think, am I next? One of the things I am most grateful for though is the community I live in. Luckily, the majority of the people in it are accepting towards me and others like me. After the Trump victory, my community has been united in fighting back, organizing small protests and talking about what we have to do next to move forward.
How do you engage in acts of protest outside of actually attending rallies?
There are many things I have done to protest aside from rallies. On my Instagram, I have expressed my opinion about things numerous times. At my school, my friend and I created a club in which we fight to change the world and protest things that are going on in any way we can. I have also made short films about my opinions and thoughts that I am determined for people to see one day. Of course, as a kid, it is hard for me to make my voice heard in a world that adults run. But I will never stop fighting until changes are made.
LUCIA LUNA KOLBA
Lucia Luna Kolba is the founder of the Gender Sexuality Alliance at her school, and regularly attends social justice marches across the US.
Tell me about the LGBTQ+ community project you’re hoping to set up in your school. What will it involve and how regularly will you meet?
I'm currently in the process of founding a GSA (Gender Sexuality Alliance) club within my online school, Christa McAuliffe School of Arts and Sciences. I've had it cleared with the administration, have a teacher who will moderate it for me, and am currently in the process of recruiting my first members. We will most likely be meeting every other week, and my goals are to create a safe place for LGBTQ+ youth to connect with others similar to them, have people to talk to about their experiences, and learn more about the community.
Talk to me about the community you were involved in at your previous school.
I attended my local public high school last year, where I was involved with their GSA. We met every week and one of our biggest achievements last year was working with the administration on getting the school's first gender neutral bathroom.
As a young person who identifies as LGBT+, tell me how you responded to the election result — was it a feeling of strength and solidarity or panic? Or both?
Election night was probably one of the hardest nights of my life. I woke up after a long, restless night convinced it hadn't happened and that it was just a bad dream, but it wasn't. The hardest part was, and has been, seeing all the reports of hate crimes since the election. As a queer, Jewish kid I've always felt like a bit of an outcast, but I live in a very progressive town, so I don't have to face nearly as much discrimination in my daily life as others do in the rest of the country. The election was a serious wake-up call and made me suddenly feel unsafe and scared of the country I call home, and the other people living in it. It wasn't until I started going out protesting and getting involved that I felt safer. Finding that sense of community through an act of resistance has really saved me.
As the news broke, what was the reaction from your community and friends?
All my friends were devastated. I was up late on election night texting friends and offering (them) emotional support. The next day all my social media feeds were filled with friends offering support to everyone and letting them know they are someone you can talk to. My local high school quickly organised a protest and had its own march around my town, and there was also a larger protest in my town that the whole community got involved in.
Samia Hampstead, a student and model of Jamaican and Guyanese descent, is active in the Black Lives Matter movement, and believes in creating representation for all POC in the fashion industry.
You recently said, “Representation matters. It’s really important for teenage girls, especially, to look in the media and see somebody who looks like them and feel represented in a way. There’s a lot of misrepresentation or no representation at all.” Considering your recent modeling work, does this mean you feel as though the fashion industry is moving in the right direction?
As a person of colour, representation is very important. Seeing leaders, activists, successful people who look like you gives you that extra push to also achieve your dreams. The fashion industry is large, but is still dominated by a particular race and look. I was, and still am, so grateful to be selected for the Urban Outfitters campaign, but I believe the industry is just tiptoeing in the right direction. Let’s go full speed ahead!
You grew up partially blind, and have been able to offer social and self-esteem advice to your younger sister, who looks up to you. Have you taught her to deal with racial abuse and sexism?
My parents first found out I was partially blind when I was five, and I had to wear a contact lens in my right eye. They were working a lot and that was just a few months after my first younger sister was born. I matured pretty rapidly after that. Growing up in a family of culturally and racially mixed people from Jamaica, Guyana, and the Caribbean is interesting. Everyone ends up having different traits, and as a result of this, my sisters have to deal with racial abuse very differently. My 16-year-old sister looks "mixed" to the masses. She struggles with proving her blackness to her peers who view her as everything but black, whereas my 14-year-old sister often gets profiled as "acting too black" or "ratchet”. I just try to lead by example as someone who can relate to both. I'm always trying to ensure in them that they need to accept their looks, personalities, and be strong. We have been raised to know who we are and to grow to be strong and proud black women.
You plan to finally move to New York this year; tell us about your plans for political engagement in 2017.
NYC is such an amazing metropolis, rich in diversity, but also with very different views. I'm fully aware of the political situation, however my parents have always taught me to be the best I can be even in the face of adversity. I want young Americans to know they need to remain positive and I want to encourage the youth to participate at a local level and work their way to a global front. Working towards unifying a country won't happen in a day, it'll take time, just know that it’s possible.
You’ve previously stated that you want to “irreversibly alter the fashion industry for the better”, can you elaborate on this?
I feel everything is tied into representation. If the fashion industry is a global market, how could we not amp up the diversity? Although it has gotten more diverse recently, I worry that it’s just a fad. Diversity is "in" this season but I don't want to it go away. I want to see bodies that look like mine and all of my peers'. Faces that are unconventionally beautiful. Curves, stick thin, and everything in between. I don't want the industry to bounce back from it, but to just embrace us all.
Describe your friendship with Amandla Stenberg — do you use your friends for inspiration?
Amandla has taught me such valuable lessons. She’s an absolute gem in my life. All of my friends inspire me to be great. They all have different looks and have lived very different lives. We learn and grow by just being in each other’s' presence. We bring out our ignorance and replace it with knowledge. How many people can say that about their friends? We are artists, students, models, actors, activists, and young adults all here in this country trying to succeed against adversity, to educate, to love. True love if I've ever seen it. There is nothing we cannot do.
Larissa Pham is an artist and writer who works for Anti-Violence, an organisation serving New York's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and HIV-affected communities.
Tell us about your work with Anti-Violence.
I came to anti-violence work by way of journalism and freelance writing. I've written about sexual assault and rape culture in various places before; they've both absolutely been my beat. Last year, I was working on an essay about rape culture and our media environment (linked here) that really pushed me to consider if there were other, more direct ways I could get involved with anti-violence advocacy work.
When training to be a volunteer hotline counsellor through the New York City Anti-Violence Project, a job in their communications department opened up and I've been here for almost ten months. When I'm volunteering on the hotline, I'm directly connecting to people in need, in crisis, and when I work in communications, I'm working on more broad, systemic forms of advocacy.
Your writing is very inward-looking, an exploration of the self. How do you use it to therapise yourself, and help others experiencing mental health issues?
Honestly, it was an accident that I ended up writing for others – I started out years ago on Tumblr writing a very intimate, raw diary, which people were drawn to I think specifically because of its inward-focused, self-exploratory nature.
I've found that when people feel visible; when they feel seen and understood - that in itself is therapeutic, even if I'm only providing a description of a feeling and no solutions. Being open and accurate about things like mental health and trauma have been both ways for me to process those experiences through writing, and also offer outlets for people who might not have seen their stories represented anywhere else.
You recently tweeted some legal advice for people attempting to alter their registered name and gender. How important is it for LQBTQ+ people and minorities to arm themselves with knowledge of basic human rights?
There was a real scramble for folks to get their paperwork in before the inauguration – for name changes or gender markers, but also for immigration – because a lot of people are worried that Trump's presidency will lead to a rollback in protections.
The place of worthiness and legitimacy has to be the place from which we fight, and that's why there are organisations like AVP – we want to connect people to resources that will help them protect and defend those rights. We have to be aware of the ways in which policymakers are going to, and have been trying to, remove protections for groups of people.
You've written of experiences with sexual assault on campus - does that affect your anti-violence advocacy work today?
It feels like most campus activists come to advocacy work and activism through experience, and that experience can include trauma, whether on your part or from helping a friend or loved one. I've been open about my experience partly because that's how I process, through writing, but also because I believe that offering your story can help others recognise themselves in it.
Which activist groups and initiatives are you involved with?
Most visibly, I'm involved in anti-sexual-violence advocacy and LGBTQ-specific anti-violence, but I believe that solidarity across different movements is essential to creating social change. After all, these issues are intersectional, just as people's identities are intersectional. Building solidarity and support across different movements is crucial. I go to protests a fair amount; usually covering them either from my personal or work Twitter account.
“Whenever we see injustice, we must stand up against it. We must protect all our brothers and sisters” - says hardcore Bernie fan and regular protester, Sam Lazar
Tell me, why is Bernie Sanders the right person for America?
I think Bernie is the right choice for us because not only are his views towards social policy exactly what we need in this nation, but he also represents the exact opposite of what is causing our problems in America; he is a politician who keeps to his word and isn't afraid to take on corporate America.
How long have you been going to protests and which have been the most memorable?
I've been going to protests since I was 13 or so. I think it’s the best when a bunch of people all come together to voice their opinions about an issue they all feel strongly about, it's magical in a weird way. The most memorable protest that I ever went to was just like that. After Officer Pantaleo didn't get indicted, in a matter of hours hundreds of students from my school all got together to march, in the rain, to the DA's office to tell them how we felt.
How else can young people, women, gay people and minorities protect themselves in Trump’s America?
It's essential to educate yourself about the world that we live in, regardless if you're in a minority or oppressed community. Doing this, in its own way, is one form of protecting yourself - knowledge itself is power. Furthermore, whenever we see injustice, we must stand up against it. We must protect all our brothers and sisters.
What plans do you have for 2017 — any protests, events or rallies coming up?
I have a couple coming up, actually. I'm currently working with a group of other young progressives from my school to help organize protests and solidify our movement.
Make up and grooming Ingeborg using Surratt Beauty and Leonor Greyl Haircare, set design Jonathan Gillen, photographic assistants Kohei Kawashima, Eduardo Silva, styling assistants Ioana Ivan, Shawn Lakin, Nina Perlman