This story is possible because of Amplify, a community storytelling initiative of Pamplin Media Group and Metro, the regional government of greater Portland. Amplify supports three summer internships for high school journalists in the Portland metro region to cover important community issues. The program aims to elevate the voices of student journalists from historically underrepresented groups, such as communities of color, low-income residents and others. Pamplin Media Group editors oversee the interns, and Metro plays no role in the editorial process.
Young adults in Oregon are leveraging the power of activism and social media. Meet four young activists at the center of local organizations working to drive change on issues from civic engagement to gun violence to climate change.
Amira Tripp Folsom began working with local nonprofit Next Up because the group helps youth get involved with democracy through expanding voter rights for young people, broadening leadership opportunities for youth in politics, and mobilizing peer-to-peer registration to educate and pre-register 16- and 17-year-olds to vote. Tripp Folsom, the youngest board member of the nonprofit, recently graduated from La Salle Catholic College Preparatory.
Since her involvement with Next Up, Tripp Folsom has publicly spoken in favor of lowering the voting age for local and state elections to 16 and is a member of the youth advisory board at Vote16, the national campaign advocating for the issue.
Social media has been an important tool for Tripp Folsom to spread awareness, she said.
“When a platform is given to us to speak about the issues that affect our lives and our futures, we will use it because there is always more work to get done,” Tripp Folsom said.
The Parkland school shooting in Florida in 2018 prompted Gabby Cosey to join Next Up, too. She’s a sophomore at Swarthmore College and another young leader in Portland’s student activism scene. Cosey said she realized it was her responsibility to do something about gun violence.
“It’s this real notion of ‘these are problems that affect me, so I am going to speak out about it, and I am going to do things about it’ in greater numbers than previous years,” Cosey said.
Cosey co-founded Oregon Youth for Gun Reform “with the explicit intention to address gun violence in communities of color.” She said the mainstream gun violence prevention movement underrepresents the experiences and narratives of gun violence of Black Americans like herself.
It’s why Cosey focuses her activism on marginalized populations, equity, racial justice and dismantling oppressive power systems. She speaks and participates in national summits and is as an active board member for Next Up.
“There is really something that is quite remarkable going on with activists, where we’re championing systemic change and structural change, alongside personal growth and awareness,” Cosey said.
Last March, Cleveland High School junior Jeremy Clark and fellow classmate Charlie Abrams used Instagram and Snapchat to spread the word about Portland’s participation in the Global Climate Strike for the Future. They expected between 100 and 200 people to attend, but 3,000 students showed up, in large part because their followers on Snapchat reposted their event graphic more than 100 times.
“We were able to see every high school in [the Portland Public School system] recognized at the strike, along with other private schools, middle schools and even colleges,” Abrams said. “That was almost 100 percent due to social media.”
Clark and Abrams regularly educate their peers about the effects of climate change through their blog and a youth lobby project called Affected Generation.
They were both finalists of the Children’s Climate Prize in 2017 for their testimony to the Senate Environment and Natural Resources and the House Energy and Environment Committees. Abrams and Clark say they have witnessed firsthand the exponential growth of youth activism.
“We saw this a couple of years ago that people were shocked to see two 9-year-old boys getting their voices heard and speaking out about climate change,” Abrams said. “Now we see youth standing up on climate change being driven so much in the media, that other youth think, ‘Oh, I can do that too.’”
Both Tripp Folsom and Cosey, who will be eligible to vote in the election this fall, plan to vote.