Activists at MVHS on slacktivism

Three self-identified activists share their thoughts on performative activism and its effectiveness

by Himani Yalamaddi and Katerina Pappas

Senior Ollie Venzon:

From helping plan the first San Jose Youth Pride Festival with the LGBTQ Youth Space earlier this year to working with the MVHS Gender-Sexuality Alliance, senior Oliver Venzon does what he calls “behind-the-scenes organizing” for most of his activism. Venzon is heavily involved in managing and assembling events, but has not been, especially recently, physically present at marches or protests.

“It wasn’t really something where I was like ‘I want to be an activist’,” Venzon said, “It was more like I have the opportunity […] to make a change, so I’m going to take [it].”

Along with being an officer at the local chapter of the High School Democrats of America, Venzon’s most recent project has him talking with the San Jose City Council about plans for a homeless shelter for LGBTQ youth in the South Bay.

And though his identity “as a gay, trans, person of color” has always influenced his involvement in community activism, it is by no means his only motivation. Venzon’s passion for creating a community that accommodates all people remains his goal, and the support of others remains necessary for that to happen.

“I think that it is really important for teens and quote-unquote ‘youth’ to be involved in activism and politics,” Venzon said. “I know that a lot of people see [teenagers] as naive [...] but you have a voice, and you can use it.”

Venzon also believes that many people that were previously “complacent” are now using their voices more and more as a result of our current political and social climate, making the movement much more accessible for people to get involved in.

For those who are interested in becoming more active in social and issues, Venzon says that working with and helping out local organizations that are making a difference and creating dialogue in our own community can be great places to begin.

Freshman Roya Ahmadi:

For sophomore Roya Ahmadi, Donald Trump’s election and the events leading up to it were what spurred her into social and political action. The implications of Donald Trump’s rise to power on the people of our community, which she describes as “diverse,” was an especially important reason Ahmadi began becoming more involved in activism.

“A lot of the policies [Trump] talked about were things that would affect me or people close to me,” Ahmadi said. “So I thought it was important to let the people around me and the people that follow me on social media — because that’s where I usually talk about activism — [know] about issues going on, and maybe if they don’t have a lot of knowledge on it, get them inspired to talk to their representatives or senators or spread the word to make sure we help the people in our community.”

For Ahmadi, social media provides an easy and effective way to communicate important news, ideas and information about issues she’s passionate about to a wide variety of people.

Educating her friends and family members on social media is one of the ways that Ahmadi considers herself an activist.

“I would like to [consider myself an activist],” Ahmadi said. “I think an activist is just someone that is very vocal about their opinions and how different political events or leaders affect the people in their communities. If you’re vocal about that and you care about other people in the community, then you should be considered an activist.”

And though she says she has never personally experienced blatant racism or sexism because of the relative acceptance in our community, she believes that is besides the point. By using the privilege she has to advocate for the less fortunate — even if it’s reserved to just social media and in her follower circle — she hopes that anyone that sees her posts learns something new.

Junior Ben Bedregal:

To junior Ben Bedregal, an activist is simply a person that stands up for their beliefs. And Bedregal, especially recently, has been acting on his values more than ever, due to the current day’s social and political climate.

“I think people should take the initiative to actually go [to protests] because when you actually go to these events, you feel [like] a part of the community,” Bedregal said. “You feel apart of something bigger than yourself and you just see everybody.”

In January, he attended both the San Jose and San Francisco Women’s Marches, and was most influenced by his mother and sister — two of the most important people in his life — when deciding to attend. And in the past few weeks, Bedregal has been especially active in protesting the repeal of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), and is determined to attend as many local marches as he can, not only for his friends and relatives that are on the DACA program, but also to stand up for his own values. His drive to be an active member of the movement is partially influenced by his personal relationships, but his biggest motivator isn’t at home — it’s at the protest itself.

“When you go to a protest, you see a lot of like-minded individuals, and they’re so passionate,” Bedregal said. “They just bring out something in you. You just feel like you want to be a part of something that they are because of how passionate they are, and that just makes you more passionate.”

To Bedregal, this passion is what sets physical forms of activism — like marches and protests — apart from online activism, like petitions.

“To me, when I see a protest on TV, it’s more touching to me because I attach a face to the cause, I attach emotion to the cause, I attach something to their cause,” Bedregal said. “As opposed to, when I see a petition online, it’s just a name. But when I see an actual protest, I see actually passionate people taking time out of their day [...] for their cause.”