This Teen Activist Is Changing The Way We Think About Politics

J Anderson

Nat speaks to Jesse Anderson, teen activist and founder of global youth news network NYAToday.

Jesse Anderson is working tirelessly to empower the younger generation to become more active and aware. She’s created her own news network, NYAToday, which already has a network of over 30,000 young people around the world. I’m thrilled that Jesse made room to speak to me about her beliefs and her news network, which offers further reading and proactive things to do at the end of every post.

Nat: So, Jesse, you have this major news network for youth that has reached thousands across the world. Why did you start this?

Jesse: I’ve always been very vocal about my beliefs, and started fighting for equality since I was young. During my early childhood, I grew up in a very low-income neighborhood with a lot of gun-violence and drugs. Fortunately, my family was able to escape that – but, for many kids, that’s not the case. I had to try and catch up with my peers who had more resources, which was incredibly difficult – as you can imagine. No child should ever be deprived of an education about the world around them simply due to their lack of resources. All children have the same potential, it just comes down to a matter of resources. That’s why I created NYAToday – to empower and educate youth about politics and activism. Many other news sites cost money, but our content is completely free. Through our articles, which are written entirely by young adults, we help youth develop the tools that they need to become global citizens.

Nat: What do you think young people can do to stop injustice?

Jesse: I think education is the first step. Just saying things that your friends or family members say doesn’t require passion – it only requires the skill to blindly follow, which is, unfortunately, an attribute that everyone possesses. Read a lot, allow yourself to be exposed to new ideas, recognize how different perspectives might make you uncomfortable, and try to understand all sides of the issue. When you have a good foundation, you can work to educate others who might not agree with you about the issue. Because, believe it or not, some people still don’t agree with #BlackLivesMatter. They still don’t agree with #MyBodyMyChoice. They still don’t agree with #LoveIsLove. You can have wonderful discussions with people who agree with you and not make any progress, or you can have challenging (but, perhaps, wonderful) discussions with those who don’t agree with you and make progress. Of course, this isn’t necessarily as black and white as I made it sound, but you get the idea.

Youth have also been given this tremendous power of social media. You can reach thousands of youth in a matter of seconds. So, think: am I deeply passionate about an issue? Do I want to create an account that focuses purely on education, or on getting people to act? What about both? It’s important to decide what your content will look like so that you can express your views effectively. It’s also pretty important to consider logistics. When are you going to post? Who is your intended audience? Where will you get your content from? Finally, make a list of goals for your account – make them specific, attainable, and measurable. Youth are so powerful. Regardless of what others might say, we can change the world.

Nat: What is the hardest thing about running NYAToday?

Jesse: The fact that it’s a news organization. Every morning, I read about another bombing, another senator trying to pass another discriminatory bill, about another tragedy. But, the stories that hit hardest are human-caused disasters, or disasters that could be lessened. Take the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, for example. This is absolutely a human-caused disaster. Saudi Arabia went in there to combat Houthi rebels, but it ended up killing 60% more Yemenis than Houthis have. It also imposed a blockage that has resulted in widespread famine. To make matters worse, there’s a cholera crisis only growing every minute. It is a tragedy that we have to power to prevent from ensuing further. It takes 1 minute to call your congress person and urge them to take action. After all, if the U.S. cuts off funding to Saudi Arabia in arms deals, they’ll be much weaker in terms of how much damage they can inflict upon the Yemeni people. It will also potentially give way to talks between the Houthi leaders and the Saudis, which is critical.

Nat: And what’s the best thing?

Jesse: The fact that everyday I read about youth making a difference. Every single day I read a story about how a middle schooler started their own recycling service, how a teenager started their own non-profit, how the younger generation is changing the world for the better. Knowing that NYAToday is helping to empower thousands of youth is also an incredible feeling.

Nat: You’re a woman in politics and media. What have your experiences been like?

Jesse: Oh, boy… I remember the time when I was pitching to a director, and he automatically assumed that my co-editor, who is a man, was the CEO. Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean that I can’t be a CEO! I constantly get ignored by male journalists when I try to get them to write or to work with NYAToday because they don’t want to work under a woman or with women who are above them.

NYAToday is predominantly made up of women, and we’re proud of that. To all the women who want to pursue politics or media: sometimes you’ll have to shut men up. Take any opportunity to do so. Being silent only proves them right.

If you’re in a meeting and a man interrupts you or steals your idea, call him out for it! If you’re talking to your male co-worker and he makes a sexist comment, call him out for it! Stop sexism in its tracks.

Also, note that if you are a non-POC woman, you damn well have to fight against racism and xenophobia. If you are a cis-gender woman, you damn well have to fight against transphobia. If you are a heterosexual woman, you damn well have to fight against homophobia. If you are a non-disabled woman, you damn well have to fight against ableism. If you are a middle/upper-middle/upper class woman, you damn well have to fight against classism. If you are not from a religious minority, you damn well have to fight against Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. Fight for every damn woman out there.

Nat: What are your top three issues right now?

Jesse: Only three? Well, I think climate change is literally knocking at our door, and no one seems to be answering. If we don’t answer immediately, it will be way too late. We have a bunch of actions on our site that you can take to combat climate change. It starts with you.

Next, I think that people using religion as a political tool to propel their own agenda is ludicrous and extremely dangerous. I was raised in a Ukrainian family and was surrounded by religion at an early age, but that doesn’t mean that I can tell others what to believe or what to do with their lives. I can wear the cross and still promote equality among all sexual orientations, all religions, all genders, and all belief systems. I think the fundamentalist belief systems common among those who fight with Daesh (ISIL) are completely antithetical to everything that Islam stands for. I don’t think they should even be called Islamic. Muslims are overwhelmingly the group that Daesh targets, and if that doesn’t tell you something, I don’t know what will. White supremacist groups who exploit certain aspects of the Bible out of context are truly the ultimate sinners. Using the word of God in an attempt to corroborate your own beliefs should be condemned.

But, perhaps one our biggest threats is apathy. I remember when the western world first saw the picture of the bloodied Syrian child. There was outrage, there was sadness, there was preaching. But, that doesn’t accomplish anything unless action follows. But, of course, we shed a tear, post on Facebook, and move on with our lives. The sheer lack of humanity among the human race is what will kill us all. Take the crisis with the Rohingya, for example. The Rohingya are being brutally killed by the Myanmar militia simply because of the religion they subscribe to. The militia has carried out ethnic cleansing and Bangladesh is barring fleeing Rohingya from entry. If we don’t wake up out of our bubble, nothing will change. More humans will die from human-caused disasters. More men and women will die in man-made wars. Don’t think for a second that your inaction doesn’t kill. You don’t need to be the one to pull the trigger to cause a death. Silence only leads to more violence, and apathy only leads to casualty.

Nat: Who are your top role models?

Jesse: There are so many powerful women in this world. So many. But, if I had to choose three, I’d go with Mona Hanna-Attisha, Malala, and Jaha Dukureh.

Nat: Jesse, thank you so much – it’s been a pleasure.

Jesse: Same here! Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.