This is a transcript of YACVic’s podcast, ‘Locked Down, Speaking Up!’, part of the ‘Learning from COVID-19’ series. Listen below or wherever you get your podcasts.
This episode of ‘Locked Down, Speaking Up!’ was recorded on the lands of the Wurundjeri Woiwurrung and Boon Wurrung Bunurong people of the Kulin Nation. YACVic pays our respects to Elders past and present.
♫ Upbeat intro track plays – ‘Far Away’ by MK2 ♫
So, you’re a young person who’s really passionate about matters that affect your community – maybe it’s disability pride, or queer rights. Have you ever asked yourself questions like, how do I advocate for myself on this? How can I use my own life experiences to create change? How do I connect with other people about it?
The last two years have transformed what we think of as ‘real’ or ‘valid’ action. Young people are getting creative about what activism can mean for our needs and our communities, and being more inclusive about it too.
Welcome to another episode of YACVic’s series Locked Down, Speaking Up. I’m Katia, I use she/her pronouns, and together we’re meeting different young people in Victoria talking about their experiences of advocacy, activism and making change during the pandemic. You’ll learn how young people are making a difference, and how you can do it too!
Today we’re hearing from 18-year-old Mac, who uses he/him pronouns. He describes himself as someone who’s always been really passionate about advocacy, but who didn’t have the connections to act on it when he was younger. Now, he does all sorts of casual work as an advocate, speaking from his lived experiences – which he started doing during the pandemic, no less! He’s going to talk us through exactly what that’s been like, what he’s learned about himself, managing good old self-care and burnout, and his advice for his past self… or maybe future you?
My name is Mac, I use he/him pronouns and I'm on the land of the Boon Wurrung Bunurong people of the Kulin Nation. I do have a job, it's a very different job towards what most teenagers would have. I do lots of work within the advocacy sector. So I could attend focus groups around education and ways to improve it, and give my experiences to create a better outcome.
I also attend panels where I do some little chats talking about a range of topics. I also have opportunities to give written feedback on resources to make sure that the message they're trying to get across is inclusive and accessible to everyone. So I give my expertise and my lived experience to better their work. So yeah, I do work, it is just a different form of working than what most people are used to and what they know.
Most of my advocacy work is done through YACVic. I attended their Emerging Young Leaders Program just to make community. So at the beginning of last year, I ended up needing to use a wheelchair. And so I felt quite isolated and quite different from my non-disabled peers. So I really wanted to connect with the disabled community and make some great friends who kind of understand what I'm going through.
And so I talked to my coordinator for my LGBT group at headspace. And she just happened to know about the Program with YDAS and said that I should give it a go. So I gave it a go in hopes to make some friends and just feel more connected with my community. I wasn't really intending for it to grow into what it has now. But it was just a beautiful little extra bonus that happened.
I've always been really passionate, but I didn't have those connections to be able to get those opportunities. And so the second I did that program, it was like boom, here's all these things you can do! The last session we had, I got given another opportunity through them. So I actually missed half of the meeting because I was already actually getting to do the work that I love! And so from there, it just kind of kicked off.
It’s so great that Mac has found ways to create community and take action based on his lived experiences. But what do we mean when we use that term, ‘lived experience’? As we’ll hear from Mac, it’s all about how your own life and identity give you unique knowledge that you can only get from experiencing something.
So for me personally, I like to talk about stuff that directly relate to my lived experience, because that's where I'm an expertise in. I don't really feel comfortable talking about stuff that I don’t personally have a lived experience with, because it's not really my place to give those information out there. And I think it's better to give that space and that voice to someone who actually has a lived experience.
So for me, education is probably one of my biggest ones, as well as COVID and like post COVID recovery, and about how going back to pre-COVID isn't the 'normal' that we want to go to. We've made some progress and so let's just improve, not go backwards. I also really love talking about anything related to disability, or to being LGBT. So I do a lot of stuff. And this can be seen through like doing focus groups, or being part of a panel, I do practically any opportunity that I can get, because I really enjoy the work.
I kind of started this during COVID. So I actually really don't know how advocacy works in the way that I do it before COVID, because I am only used to doing Zooms! I think that was actually really helpful for me, because one day I had five events, which was probably quite a lot, but that would have been impossible to do in person. So I was actually really allowed to do anything I wanted and really see what I'm passionate about. Because there were so many opportunities available for me. And I think during COVID, I realised that I am really passionate about post-COVID recovery. It wasn't something I really thought of at the beginning of the year, but as the year progressed, I kind of noticed the lack of information there. And so now it's a really, really passionate area for me, which is part of why I'm on like the COVID Working Group. So we're working towards all of those things related to COVID.
I’m sure a lot of us can relate to Mac becoming really passionate about COVID recovery. The pandemic has especially impacted young people, and now more than ever, a lot of us feel compelled to speak on this topic.
I also really appreciate Mac’s points about how we shouldn’t be nostalgic for pre-COVID as our new normal – because COVID adaptions actually improved a lot of things and we shouldn’t just abandon that.
But as you can imagine, constantly drawing on and talking about your actual life can also be tiring. Even more so when you’re part of a community that has been disproportionately impacted, or you’re not having your needs met. So how do you manage that?
Doing advocacy work, can be really mentally draining. Often at times, you can be debating with people about your basic human rights. And you can be talking about people who disagree and say mean and cruel things about you, or who you represent or your community. So mentally-wise, it's a lot. And self-care is really, really important to be able to not burn out and actually be able to maintain your work.
For me, the biggest forms of self-care that I do is going to the gym. I go to the gym, just to have a little bit of a break, get like that energy, and it makes me feel good. So I really enjoy that. And it also means I can give time to my advocacy work and be really engaged.
I think it's also important to just say no with certain events. Like if it's going to be too much for you or if you've got too much on your plate, it's okay, there's going to be another event that will come. You just really need to prioritise your self-care. I found taking my dog for walks, after a really mentally draining event that just took a lot out of me was really, really helpful. I also found just chatting to my friends was really, really great too. Not everyone really thinks of that as a 'self-care,' but it really is a form of self-care.
Also just doing events that were for fun. So not always really serious and detailed, and really full-on. But sometimes just like, just having a chat, having some fun is really, really great. So you don't burn out, and you really enjoy what the work you're doing. I think that's the most important thing. If you do something and you don't enjoy it, well that's okay not to do it again - find what works with you. And therefore keeping up with self-care in regards to it is a lot easier. I'm at the point now, where a lot of my advocacy work I do feels like self-care, because I feel so great doing it. And I might have had a crappy day with school. I mean, year 12's a lot! And I will go log on to whatever event I'm doing, and by the end of the day, I feel so much better.
We’ve heard it a lot through the pandemic but it’s always worth repeating –to honour your boundaries! This is one of many things Mac’s learned about himself as he figures out what he wants his advocacy journey to look like.
I would tell my past self just to get your name out. That has been the biggest thing for me, is making connections. And for me, you make connection through word of mouth. So take one of them, put a lot of effort to get to know everyone there and make a good impression. And there's a good chance something will grow out of that - which I have noticed! One event leads to three other events, which leads to another nine events. And it just grows from there.
But it is really hard to get yourself out there. So I found it was really helpful to get involved with like local communities, that's a great way to start off. There are lots of opportunities if you have different lived experiences, so get involved with those organisations that are dedicated to your community.
But it's also important to know that advocacy and advocacy work has so many different ways that you can do it. So it's really finding about what's comfortable for you. Like I've learned I enjoy being on the radio, but I prefer when it's pre-recorded. Or, I really enjoy giving feedback to resources because I can do it in my own time. So at the beginning, just say yes to whatever you can handle and just see what is your passion and what works. But it's also okay - and I think younger me also really needed to cool down a little bit in the early days! - but like it's okay to take breaks, pace yourself. And you end up creating such a beautiful community, so you have a bunch of people that you can get support from.
Young people only have their own experience. The older generations don’t know what it’s like to be a young person in their community. So while as a community as a whole you may share similar lived experiences, young people have their own individual lived experiences to offer which are just as valuable and important.
I think that’s a really great note to finish on, because so often young people hear narratives like, ‘you’re inexperienced or uninformed because of your age.’ But it’s not the case; we are the experts in our own lives and stories.
Mac made a great point when he said that advocacy can happen in many different ways. If you feel stuck on how to advocate for yourself or a cause, it’s not that you don’t have something valuable to say – seek out the form, the place and the pace that feel good and safe for you.
If Mac’s experience has motivated you to try out advocacy on your own terms, I’ve got good news – YACVic has heaps of ways to support you! Starting with this podcast being part of our bigger ‘Learning from COVID-19’ series, which is our resource full of information to help you learn from the most clever COVID adaptions for young people. You can check out the activism category for plenty of helpful stories and support, from a social justice glossary to guides for meeting with your MP, and so much more.
You can also become a YACVic member – which is free for young people! – for exclusive opportunities, supports and resources.
If you’re interested in some of the programs Mac did with the Youth Disability Advocacy Service (YDAS), like the Young Leaders Program or the COVID-19 Working Group – which is now an advisory group - check out YDAS’s website to get involved!
The links to all of this are in this episode’s show notes and transcript.
In the next episode, we’re going to meet Ashvina, a young person who started making meals for her multicultural community during COVID, when she found there were no clear supports for them. Ashvina’s now turned the initiative into a non-profit, and she’s going to walk us through exactly how she created this initiative, the barriers multicultural communities have faced in COVID, and also share tips for getting community involved, and connecting people with local supports. I’m super excited for it! Until then, thanks for tuning in.