Live Through This

I Was a Teenage Activist

The amazingly true stories of five young women who make teenage girls everywhere look good.

Jessica Yee

Jessica describes herself as a “multiracial indigenous hip-hop feminist reproductive-justice freedom fighter.” In addition to writing for places such as Racialicious, she’s edited two books, the most recent of which is Feminism FOR REAL: Deconstructing the Academic-Industrial Complex of Feminism.

She’s also an advocate for indigenous sexual health, reproductive justice and self-determination, and the founder of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network. “It was my sister, my best friend and me who started the network, because we really wanted an organization in which we could see ourselves represented,” she says. “It’s grown from this very grassroots-type thing that was run out of my basement into this international organization.”

That organization is currently working to promote healthy sexuality, including an event at which Aboriginal men spoke out against violence toward women; and the Aboriginal Sex Workers Education Outreach Project, run by and for Aboriginal sex workers, aimed at helping them work safely.

Jessica is a sharp critic of outdated or oppressive forms of activism. “I feel like a lot of [activism] comes from a very well-intentioned place, but it’s a lot of talk about ‘let’s save these people, let’s get involved in their lives,’ without really thinking about what that means,” she says. Her activism focuses on programs run by and for the people they’re intended to help. “Everyone has the right to decide whether they’re an activist or not. Even looking in the mirror every day, and deciding that you like what you see, is an activist choice.”

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16 Comments

  • Tara September 15th, 2011 3:28 PM

    this is such a great article! it’s wonderful to see young women making their mark on the world in such a positive way (and by using the internet universe as a tool for their trade). all of these women are incredible. I’m immediately inspired after reading their stories. this is what needs to be shown to those silly adults who as this article states feel that youngsters today are incredibly passive in terms of activism.

  • Anna F. September 15th, 2011 3:53 PM

    I was mildly familiar and impressed with the works of Jessica Yee and Lena Chen (through Bitch Magazine and Amanda Hess’s blog, respectively), but I’m so pleased to be introduced to the works of the other three as well.

    (Now to be all annoying and switch from speaking in the third person to the second): What I love is how you all work in different venues and for different causes, yet each have inspiring and motivational statements to make. It’s been a while since I’ve been involved in any activist work and this was the kick that I needed to get off my couch. I especially loved what Jessica Yee had to say about the methods of activism is constantly changing – it makes sense that a progressive movement would be constantly improving it’s game plan.

  • Anna F. September 15th, 2011 4:03 PM

    That last commented sounded ambiguous – in the first line, I meant to indicate that I was mildly familiar, yet thoroughly impressed!

  • Catherine_CC September 15th, 2011 4:18 PM

    I love this article so much, I’m not sure I can put it into words! Last night I was facebook chatting two of my very best friends and, as always, we were talking about everything and nothing. We had previously talked about how are desires and beliefs are very different from those of our parents. One of the things we’ve been talking about is how my parents have wanted me to be a doctor my whole life, and I went along with it because I wanted their approval, I knew I would have to support them when they were older, and I genuinely love to help others. As a junior in high school, I am well into the decision making process about what career I’m headed for. With the encouragement of my friends, I told my parents that I don’t want to be a doctor and that I want to do something in international politics (my hero is Aung san suu kyi). Surprisingly, my parents were ok with that. They were a bit disappointed because they REALLY want me to go into medicine, but they said that they want me to be happy. This article just gave me more heros to add to my list, and has encouraged me to start making a difference now. (Also, I love the website. You guys are doing great!)

  • Stephanie September 15th, 2011 4:42 PM

    These girls are my freakin’ HEROINES!!!!! I was so excited and proud to learn about them. They inspire me and I know they will inspire many others.

  • bloodymessjess September 15th, 2011 4:57 PM

    It’s great to see Rookie covering such awesome activists! I actually just read a piece written by Lena Chen today about her experience with Asian fetishism which was really good. Last year, the queer group at my school and the Aboriginal Resource Centre collabed to bring Jessica Yee to talk about Two-Spirit, and Ive been following her on Twitter ever since. She goes to so many places and does such amazing work – I highly recommend trying to get her to come speak at your school.

  • Jenny September 15th, 2011 5:29 PM

    Heck yeah, ladies! I love Jessica Yee’s writing on racialicious, and I remember feeling so angry about the media response to Lena Chen’s blog. I’m so happy to read about all these kick-ass girls.

    I love that Yee says, “I feel like a lot of [activism] comes from a very well-intentioned place, but it’s a lot of talk about ‘let’s save these people, let’s get involved in their lives,’ without really thinking about what that means.” I’m behind that 100%!

    I remember I interned one summer for the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, and it was the first time I had ever really considered the difference between “advocacy” and “community organizing.” The former was about speaking for a community of people and telling them what they needed to make their lives better, and the latter was about empowering that community to speak for themselves and identify for themselves what they needed to improve their lives. It was also first time I had ever really thought about the implications of “charitable work,”–the idea that there are people who need to be helped and there are people who are going to do the helping. Or the idea that it’s “saintly” and “generous” to “help” rather than it’s everyone’s duty to constantly fight for the realization of a world that is just and equal and dignified.

    These girls get it, and I only wish I had been more inspired and active as a teen!

    • garconniere September 21st, 2011 6:25 PM

      i keep thinking the same thing as i read a lot of these articles: if only i had been exposed to this at 14, 15, 16.

      jessica yee is one of my heroes.

  • Sunshine September 15th, 2011 6:23 PM

    These ladies are so inspiring! THESE are the people we should be idealizing, not celebrities. =D GIRLS, YOU ARE MY HEROS. (Right after Tavi, of course) :}

  • Whatsername September 15th, 2011 8:00 PM

    Oh man, reading about what all these people did is making me feel lazy.

    These girls are amazing. It’s people like these that end up changing the world for the better. c:

  • Angie Bitchface September 15th, 2011 9:16 PM

    this is such a great and inspiring article! it makes me so happy to think that this is a teen magazine publishing content like this, and makes me feel hopeful for the future of the teenage girls of today.

  • AmandaLouiseHobba September 15th, 2011 10:37 PM

    I am completely inspired by Syreeta Gates, she is doing the kind of things I dream of doing in the future!

  • kelsey September 15th, 2011 11:37 PM

    Dude. This rules.

  • Syreeta The Culture Creator September 20th, 2011 3:14 PM

    Thank you ladies for taking the time out to read this amazing post! Who RUNS the world??? GIRLS

  • saranev September 20th, 2011 10:07 PM

    This is such an inspiring piece.

  • Margelo September 23rd, 2011 11:38 AM

    when i was younger- not a teenager- i went to marches and rallys in LA, to fight the thought of war in iraq.
    me and my friends would hang out with signs that read- don’t attack iraq- while we would play games and stuff.
    i’m really glad i did it now. i’m glad i stood up to war. :D