Youth to Power by Jamie Margolin Book Summary

Youth to Power, Your Voice and How to Use It by Jamie Margolin


In her bold, inspiring guidebook, youth activist Jamie Margolin provides practical advice on how to be an agent of change. She explains the difficulties of being heard, the importance of knowing how to frame an issue to get results,the need to keep your ego out of the way and the value of – in the late Rep. John Lewis’s words – getting into “good trouble.” If you decide to advocate for a cause, Margolin can help you make it happen. Greta Thunberg’s foreword adds to her argument for young people to step forward. 


  • Finding your why is the first and most important step in becoming an activist.
  • Start simple – get out and meet people, and learn about your cause.
  • Writing is a great way to communicate with those in power and with a larger audience.
  • What is your superpower? Your age. 
  • Before you hit the streets, prepare carefully.
  • Social media is great, but the real work is in real life.
  • If your cause draws attention, others will want a part of it. Holding onto yourself is a challenge.
Youth to power book cover

Youth to Power Book Summary

Finding your why is the first and most important step in becoming an activist.

Being an activist for any cause is hard work, so, before you begin your journey, investigate your “why.” Your why will propel you forward. It is the reason you are fighting. Every article you write, protest you attend and job you take serves your why; these measures are steps on the way, not ends in themselves.

Do you know someone who suffers from injustice? Do you want to emulate the people you see making a change? Or maybe you question ordinary rules, and recognize the value of making “good trouble.” You might not know your why at first. Meet people, attend events and educate yourself. Your why will reveal itself.

“You are a part of a global family of changemakers that has been slowly but surely bending the moral arc of the universe toward justice for centuries.”

Jamie Margolin, who lives in the US Pacific Northwest, became an activist at age 12 when she saw the effects of pollution and climate change on the natural habitat around her. She realized that she could not live without its beauty and decided she would do all in her power to preserve it. She organized her first mass movement – Zero Hour – at age 16. In 2017, Jamie and her friends around the country formulated the “Youth Climate March” idea and group. After a year of planning, Youth Climate Marches took place in Washington DC and 25 cities around the world in the summer of 2018. As a gay woman with roots in Colombia, she also advocates for people of color who seek LGBTQ+ rights. 

When you commit to your why, learn how to get your voice heard. Every journey starts small. You don’t have to have a grandiose goal – at first. Express your why through art or writing. Changing the world doesn’t happen overnight.  You’re not alone. People will support you on your journey.

Start simple – get out and meet people, and learn about your cause.

You aren’t the world expert in the issue that matters to you – that’s the point. Learning about issues, experimenting with what feels right and finding like-minded people are a big part of activism. Investigate your cause through social media, then send other advocates a message, or join a meeting or an event. When Margolin made her first call to a climate-change activist group, Plant for the Planet Seattle, she was only 14, and she had no idea where to start. She was told to jump in. She made mistakes, but making mistakes is how you learn.

“The only way to learn is by just starting. Join that organization, perform whatever tasks they give you, and have an open mind.”

If you’re not ready to join a group, make your voice heard by writing to a legislative representative, using social media to link your personal story to the issues you care about or developing a school project. No start is too small. When Margolin volunteered at her local Democratic Party campaign office in 2016, she loved canvassing for votes. She recalls the pleasure of seeing Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail.

Writing is a great way to communicate with those in power and with a larger audience.

Introverts need to connect with their why in a personal way. Writing helps. The blog site, Teen Ink, is a great place to tell your story and talk about the issues you care about. Because young people can’t vote, writing – op-eds, letters to the editor or a blog – lets you be heard. Most people who are younger than 30 don’t vote. That means that older generations are deciding your future. So vote if you are able, and speak up! 

“Youth perspectives are extremely important to hear because there are issues that deeply affect us that we need our leaders to take action on now.”

To write a worthy op-ed, be clear, concise and use your voice. Telling your personal story is powerful. If you want to write something more in-depth for a publication, do your research. Pitch your story and include any of your previous published works, including op-eds. You must endure rejection, but that’s part of the process. Every time you write, you will improve.

Change the news by becoming the news. Once your movement has traction, the press can amplify your message. You need a “media mentor” to help you devise a strategy. Write your public relations (PR) materials, such as press advisories and releases, with updates on your movement’s work. Include important information about dates, times, contacts, and your event or action. Follow up with phone calls to journalists. Don’t worry if you get negative or inaccurate press; correct any errors and ignore the haters, unless you sense danger or serious damage to your cause. 

Before you hit the streets, prepare carefully.

Planning a big event, such as a march or rally for a cause, can take a year; putting together something more local may take only a few weeks. The steps you must take to prepare are the same. 

“The action you take now will decide the future of our planet and everything on it.”

An event checklist should look like this:

  1. Identify the purpose of the event.
  2. Set ambitious but realistic goals.
  3. Identify what you need to know, and find people to fill the gaps.
  4. Make a budget, and start fundraising.
  5. Apply for permits for venues.
  6. Make a plan for the day of your event based on time increments.
  7. Invite speakers and guests.
  8. Create press materials.
  9. Recruit attendees through social media and word of mouth.
  10. Send out a press release to get media attention.

On the day of the event, connect with your team, have safety measures in place – like professional security – and document everything for your post-event narrative. It’s unlikely that everything will run smoothly. On the day of the Youth March for Climate in Washington, DC, the weather turned rainy, but the marchers still made themselves heard all over the world.

Sometimes, law enforcement will perceive your protests as breaking the law. “Civil disobedience” is willful but peaceful law-breaking that exposes injustice. As Martin Luther King Jr once said, “Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.”

Peaceful direct action should be a last resort when other options fail. As a youth activist, know and understand any law you might break and have clear boundaries around what you are willing to risk for your cause. Be sure your community and your parents know what you are doing and why, and have a clear idea what you want to happen. Plan carefully and, above all else, remain peaceful. Violence will not get you what you want and could incur danger.

What is your superpower? Your age. 

You may believe that you don’t have any power because you can’t vote, but nothing could be further from the truth. Young people have contributed to social change in the past and, with the climate crisis, we have no time to waste in saving the future. You have to know what levers you can pull now to affect change. It starts with having the moral high ground, because you didn’t create this problem and yet others expect you to live with it or solve it. No one can point to you and say it’s partly your fault. 

“A lot of being a youth activist is about pulling the seat up to the table yourself, because no one is going to invite you.”

Special interests who try to place their thumbs on the scale of justice can’t hold back youth activists. Kids are experts on what it is to live in their era. Kids are on the cutting edge of culture and technology. Young people feel the greatest impact of problems like climate change, which will affect their employment opportunities and quality of life.

Young people can’t control some things. You don’t directly affect the legislative process. You don’t have money, and you can’t change the laws or their enforcement. You can’t control the levers of government or its institutions, and you can’t control mainstream media.

But you can transform the way people see youth in the 21st century. Know your issue inside out. Demonstrate maturity and responsibility; hold adults accountable and remember that they aren’t the enemy. The best way to bring about change is through collaboration and respect. You can speak your truth to power, but you need them to listen.

Social media is great, but the real work is in real life.

Social media is a powerful tool which you should manage carefully and strategically. Avoid becoming a “clicktivist”: someone who wants to look like an activist without doing hard work in the real world. Activism is about bringing attention to an issue, not to yourself. Paired with other activities, social media connects people and amplifies your cause to the world. An op-ed Margolin posted on Teen Ink connected her with her partner in the Zero Hour movement when she was 16. Then phone calls, emails and community events really brought people onboard.

“If all social media platforms were to disappear from the face of the earth this instant, you should still have a large part of your activism intact.”

You need a strategy. Determine your talking points and which event you want to promote. What hashtag should you use? Whatever it is, it should be unique to you. You don’t have a lot of time to grab people’s attention. Brand your cause with graphics and colors, and be consistent. Time your posts and build a narrative. Your posts should have an “ask” – for donations, RSVPs or links to share with friends. Curate your posts into a social media tool kit – a convenient way to get your information out to people you want to influence or recruit.

Show integrity and restraint in your social media universe. Never post personal information or inappropriate things about your life. Never trash talk people who disagree with you. Your cause is not you and your needs. If you are obsessed with getting the most “likes” or gaining recognition for your efforts, step back and re-evaluate your why. Follow the golden rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. Sometimes, the haters will get you down. Focus on your cause.

If your cause draws attention, others will want a part of it. Holding onto yourself is a challenge.

With youth activism gaining popularity, big companies and influential people want to be part of it. While some companies and politicians can help amplify your cause, they can also take advantage of you. Their first priority is to make and sell stuff, or to get votes. To avoid compromising your cause, they must have more value for you than you have for them. You risk being a sell-out, and your movement will lose credibility. The exposure of working with a big advertiser is great, and its bigger audience is valuable, but hold on to your convictions. 

“Am I staying true to my community? Am I staying true to what I fight for? Am I staying true to who I am as a person and my values?”

Being a change-maker comes with other temptations, like comparing yourself to others with the same goals. Most activists are ambitious, and their self-worth derives from their cause. Get out of your own way to pave the way for the future. Recall your why and be proud of your accomplishments. Young people must deal with friends, school work and career goals. Taking on climate change or LGBTQ+ rights can sabotage your personal aspirations and relationships, if you let it. 

Being an activist shouldn’t be lonely. Your community is the best antidote to hopelessness or despair. The people who share your vision also share your values; if you want to make the world better, be better. Foster good communication with your team. Get help from facilitators and mediators. Have a clear and accountable process for making decisions.

Managing egos and roles in the world of activism pays off. Justice isn’t a gift; you must demand it. Before laws can change, the culture that made those laws must change. You have the power to say “enough already” and break the silence and paralysis. Youth to Power is Truth to Power.

About the Author

Jamie Margolin

Zero Hour co-founder Jamie Margolin, 19, is a Colombian-American community organizer, activist, author and public speaker. In 2018, she led the “Youth Climate Marches” in Washington, DC and more than 25 other cities globally. She is now in her first year of university studying film and television. Greta Thunberg, who wrote the foreword, says Margolin’s Zero Hour marches inspired her and her School Strike for Climate/Fridays for Future movement.