Thursday February 01, 2018
Vermont youth took a stand for human rights at the state’s capital January 20. Kiran Waqar, a senior at South Burlington High School (SBHS), was one of the organizers of the event titled March for Our Future, a nationwide movement that calls for youth voices to be heard in activism and politics. Waqar described the Montpelier rally as a “testament to the power and voice of young people in Vermont,” adding, “They showed up to assert their voices, whether it be to share their unique and powerful stories or encourage political actions. It really showed that even if you can’t vote, you can still make your voice heard.”
According to Waqar, the March for Our Future event was an independent organizing effort held with the support of Women’s March Vermont, along with organizational sponsorship from the Peace and Justice Center in Burlington. Similar March for Our Future events have been held in other states including California, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin.
Waqar was one of the youth-only speakers at the January 20 event. She said to the crowd, “Your voice is the most powerful thing about you. It can further movements, move mountains, and bring to light shadows. Your voice matters.”
Also speaking at the rally was Asfar Basha, who has lived in South Burlington since 2005. Currently a student at the University of Vermont (UVM) studying political science, Basha first learned about the youth march on Facebook. He reached out to organizers, along with fellow UVM students, to see if they could help out. He explains, “We were given the task of directing parking for the event. Rachel Siegel, Michelle Mraz, and the rest of the organizing team also gave me the opportunity to speak at the event along with the rest of the youth lineup.”
Basha’s remarks at the march focused on the theme of democracy requiring participation and engagement. “One of my core beliefs, as a young American and aspiring leader, is that we – the millennials – are the generation that we’ve been waiting for. I believe that we are equipped with the right tools to realistically change the world. We have what it takes to change the political culture in this country. Our access to information and various rapid methods of communication allows us to mobilize and be informed like no other previous generation. It is up to us, to use these tools effectively to shape our future.” Urging the crowd to continue to participate, he added, “Getting engaged in the political process can mean a lot of different things. To some it may be volunteering for campaigns and for others it may be running and holding local office. In my opinion, the easiest and most rudimentary way to get involved, is to be informed, and vote!”
In addition to the speakers, the January 20 march featured performances including one by the slam poetry group Muslim Girls Making Change (MGMC), which was created by Waqar, with fellow SBHS senior Lena Ginawi, along with Burlington High School seniors Hawa Adam and Balkisa Abdikadir. MGMC performed “Welcome,” their piece about the Syrian refugee crisis.
Rachel Siegel, executive director of the Peace and Justice Center said, “This event is an amazing manifestation of what young people can do and why we should be listening to them. People often talk about youth being the leaders of tomorrow. While it’s true they’ll probably live longer than I will, I refuse to overlook their leadership and value today!”
Upon reflection, Basha said the march helped him understand “that the American experiment of self-governance is an ongoing process and that in the history of our country, we will face adversity to which we must choose to stand up and resist.” He noted, “The event was in some ways quite surreal. I never thought that thousands of people, both young and old, would take time out of their Saturday afternoon to stand with us in our pursuit of political equality. To see that young folks want to change our political culture, and older folks who support our initiative, is a sign that the outlook for this country is bright.”
Waqar’s remarks at the rally, which began at Montpelier’s City Hall and continued to the Vermont State House, ended with this invitation, “I encourage you to join me in making a late New Year’s resolution – to speak up when I see injustice. To shout from the rooftop. To bring light to the hidden shadows and stories swept under the rug.”
As he ended his speech, Basha quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Basha continued, “But let me tell you something, that arc won’t bend without the passion, the drive, the energy, and the commitment of young folks who share a common understanding that the world needs us. So let’s do this.”
SOURCE: Carole Vasta Folley, The Other Paper