Change Happens When We Work Together: A Lesson From History

Over 100 years ago, my great-great-great grandfather Fredrick Douglass advocated for Black freedom and women’s rights. My generation is still fighting for the same causes.

A Black Lives Matter protest in South Yorkshire, England, in June 2020. (Tim Dennell / Flickr)

I was born into a family of activists and changemakers. My great-great-great grandfather Frederick Douglass has inspired my family for generations to speak out and actively do our part to make the change we desire to see in our nation. Over 100 years ago, Fredrick Douglass advocated for African Americans’ freedom and women’s rights. He was determined to push America to be a true democracy that encompasses all Americans regardless of race or gender. Unfortunately, the fight for equality persists into 2022—and I am fighting for the same causes along with many members of my generation.

Frederick Douglass once said, “I prayed for freedom for 20 years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs”—which is still as true today as it was then, as change occurs when people actively take action, working together, rather than passively wishing for change.

My generation has been deemed the generation of activists by many as we are not only willing to use our collective voices to speak out but attend marches and protests to advocate together for what we believe. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) marches that took place after George Floyd’s death and the Women’s Marches that were held following the 2016 election have significantly impacted me and my generation. At the time of both the 2016 and 2020 elections I was too young to vote, as was most of my generation, so protest became one of our main means of influencing our nation. Social media was also highly influential and useful during this time as we were able to collectively mobilize as a group. I capitalized on the use of social media to post petitions for people to sign, find common meeting places for protests and events, discuss differences of opinions and locate resources that other teens were uploading.  

Collective action, particularly voting and protest, is essential for ensuring that American democracy upholds its values of being inclusive and representative of the nation’s demographic. Although protests are a significant and valuable tool, I want to join collaborative efforts that further my role in evolving our nation and contribute to the solution, which led me to intern at ReflectUS this summer. As the national, cross-partisan coalition of leading women’s representation organizations, ReflectUS has the unique capacity to expand political leadership for all women. Given that change and progress occur when people come together, ReflectUS’ ability to bring people together, work across racial, ethnic, ideological and party differences to build a national movement for change made it the perfect next step for me. The work of accelerating gender parity in our political system at all levels is essential to American democracy—one that echoes the nation’s composition at 51 percent women rather than its current abysmal rate of approximately half that.

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.

Frederick Douglass

The majority of Gen Z have lost faith in our government, but many, including myself, believe that we have the power to make the change and do it differently, especially if we work together. I am optimistic that one day our country will uphold its values and our government will represent and include all its citizens. For that to occur, people must be willing to work together across race, gender, ideology and party lines to obtain a more just society.

Frederick Douglass understood that more advancement occurs when different minority groups come together with a common goal of reaching equality. The partisan nature of the country is currently stifling our ability to make progress.  The only way to ensure change is for Americans to work together, form coalitions, and for my generation to continue challenging the status quo and reshape the current system—to truly reflect us.

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Haley Watson is a rising sophomore at Tufts University, an intern at ReflectUS, and a direct descendent of abolitionist Frederick Douglass.