The Power of Youth Activism – An Interview With Avery Shannon
February 22, 2021
For many activists, young and old, getting involved in advocacy and grassroots organizing is more of an act of survival than a choice. While many folks may find joy and comfort in activism and the community it provides, activism is not often an extracurricular activity or hobby. For Avery Shannon, their activism journey is about survival.
Avery (they/them) is a multiply disabled wheelchair user queer youth of colour activist and grassroots community organizer. As someone who holds intersecting marginalized identities, Avery says that getting involved in activism was never a choice for them, but rather something that occurred as a result of the identities they hold. “The identities that I hold, like being queer and disabled, are intricately linked to how how I have always been an advocate,” they say. Avery’s organizing efforts have been focused in multiple different areas, including queer rights, sex worker rights, disability justice and climate action.
Recently, Avery also co-founded Covid-19 Coming Together (Vancouver), a mutual-aid group that folks could use to seek support and assistance, and offer it to those who needed it. Mutual aid efforts are not a new thing, and are often organized by marginalized people to prioritize community care and reciprocity. In simple terms, it is a way for people in a community to take care of each other, and help each other out.
When the pandemic hit, marginalized groups such as people of colour, disabled people and poor people were hit hardest. Covid-19 has truly magnified the inequality and oppression that exist within our current systems, and how drastically things need to change before justice and equality is reached. “There are so many barriers and privileges in society that have been so heavily amplified by the pandemic, and have made people realize that this goes on beyond the pandemic,” Avery says, “Unless we take bold action, things will go back to normal which is NOT acceptable. Normal was a crisis.”
The hope that many activists hold is that another, more just world is possible. In the fight for social justice, hopelessness is not uncommon. When the weight of changing the world is on your shoulders, it’s difficult to not get discouraged by the overwhelming injustice that exists across the globe. As an organizer and co-founder of Our Time, a campaign made up of young people across Canada who are fighting for a Green New Deal, Avery says that their ideal world includes the implementation of a Green New Deal, which will include resources such as free public transit, higher minimum wages, support with childcare and more resources allocated towards disabled folks. Avery says they would like “accessibility to be a priority, rather than an afterthought.”
As pressure on politicians to take bold climate action increases, so do the demands for Indigenous voices to be centered within the fight for climate justice. In a movement such as the climate movement, Black and Indigenous voices are often drowned out by the overpowering presence of those with race and class privilege, while the very people who are most impacted by the climate crisis are left out of the conversation. To fight for climate justice is to fight for racial justice, and within that, returning stewardship of the land to its original and rightful owners.
Avery reiterates the importance of “Land Back,” and how it fits into social justice movements. “Everybody is talking about ‘reconciliation,’ and ‘Land Back’ means much more than that,” they explain, “‘Land Back’ means giving back the land that was stolen. Begin to understand that, and then support frontline activists in the ‘Land Back’ work that they are doing.”
The weight of social change is on the shoulders of young people, because they know their futures are the ones at stake, especially those who exist within the margins of systemic oppression. The work that Avery and other young grassroots activists are doing now is what will create the change that is needed, and ensure that future generations can exist in a world that’s better than the one we’re leaving behind. Centering the voices of marginalized youth is how we will pave the way for a livable future.
About Avery Shannon
Raised on unceded Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh lands, Avery (they/them) is a passionate grassroots organizer. Over the past couple of years, their focus has ranged from Indigenous sovereignty to sex work advocacy. Avery is a multiply disabled wheelchair user queer youth of colour activist. Be it when they’re playing music, nålbinding, or swimming, Avery strives to bring an intersectional lens to all that they do.