When I joined yli, I went through the process of learning about local politics alongside my youth. I felt so limited. It’s hard to be your full social justice self when you are doing policy and working with decision-makers.

Many policy-makers don’t reflect our communities – they have such different narrative filters, they look different and have different backgrounds than many of the people they supposedly represent. I felt strongly that they were doing things wrong, that they weren’t doing what was best for our communities. I couldn’t imagine partnering with them.

Over time, I’ve learned how to agitate and organize in a different way.  Our policy work is an example of “inside-outside strategy” and, honestly, it still drives me bananas. I’ve seen how organizing gets things done and pushes policymakers to make things happen. Sometimes when you’re in the policy game, you don’t want to be associated with folks making a lot of noise. You’re trying to create relationships with policymakers, and there’s an attitude or way of being that is expected. How do you balance being friendly and polite with decisionmakers, while holding onto the values of our communities – especially when these spaces aren’t really set up to hear what the community needs? It’s a hard balance.

And this is where, within all the limitations of policy work, yli’s approach to youth-adult partnerships is truly radical. There are so many spaces – especially at decision-making tables – that have historically been off-limits to youth. We adults contribute to radical youth agendas when we use our privilege to enter spaces that youth can’t enter. We can hold the door open for youth and then hand over the mic so they can speak up in spaces where they’ve never before had a voice. Showing decision-makers that we have people power, that they have something to lose if they don’t collaborate – that’s the blueprint of a successful policy campaign.

Read the full article about radical youth-led social justice by Montzerrat Garcia Bedolla at Youth Leadership Institute.