Who is Olivia Juliana?
Olivia Julianna (who publicly uses only her first and middle names to protect her privacy) has been an activist for several years, advocating for voting rights and reproductive health care. Like many of her generation, she found the political side of TikTok where young people post about the important issues they face. Olivia is involved with Gen-Z for Change, a non-profit organization leveraging social media to promote civil discourse and political action on a variety of topics, including COVID-19, climate change, systemic inequality, foreign policy, suffrage and LGBTQ+ issues.
Olivia’s online targeting began after criticizing an elected official who, at a student action summit in Florida, called abortion rights activists disgusting and overweight and said, “Nobody wants to impregnate you if you look like a thumb” among other offensive comments. After Olivia spoke out against the remarks, the politician then posted a picture of her on Twitter alongside an article referencing her insults. This photo went a long way to her millions of followers. In addition, she received hateful and biased private messages.
Online hate and harassment are all too common, especially for people from marginalized identity groups like Olivia, a queer Latin woman, identity groups often targeted in digital spaces. While ignoring, muting, blocking, documenting and reporting are all options, Olivia decided to tackle biased and offensive comments directly. That’s when she got into a public social media battle with the chosen one, who continued to double down on her body shaming and belittling her.
Fundraising campaign brings in millions
As a result, Olivia announced that she would be support a fundraising campaign for the Gen-Z for Change Abortion Fund, which distributes donations among abortion funds in all 50 states. This story immediately exploded on social media. Although the number of offensive comments she received increased, she also received overwhelming support, so much so that it also brought more criticism, but also helped Olivia raise $2.2 million, which which continues to increase. She inspired people in Texas, elsewhere in the United States and beyond. She says, “I have been teased, ridiculed and harassed for most of my life. I will not tolerate this kind of behavior anymore. Don’t mess with the women of Texas and don’t underestimate Gen Z!
Teachable Moments for Educators
For educators and those who work with young people, especially as we return to school in what promises to be another challenging school year, what can we learn from the experience and history of Olivia Juliana?
- Teach young people about current real-life activists and others who are taking action against prejudice and injustice. Even better if these activists are young people themselves, because people like Olivia Julianna can serve as important role models. Civil rights activists of the past are icons of history, and we should teach about them. However, if we also highlight current activists who are young, they will be able to see themselves in this advocacy. You can use children’s literature, current affairs, and social studies texts to explore activism with young people.
- Help young people think about the problems and injustices they see in their world right now. Then, like Olivia did, help them turn those concerns into action. Like Bellen Woodard, who dubbed herself the “World’s 1st Crayon Activist” at age 8, suggests in More than Peach, her new picture book, “Instead of asking kids what they want to be when they grow up, ask them what they want to change.” What we can learn from Bellen, Olivia and other young activists is how vital it is to talk early and often with young people about how they want to make a difference in their world.
- Don’t just tell young people to fight prejudice and bullying, show them how. This means helping them understand and identify what bias and injustice are, and then providing them with tools and practices to address and challenge injustice. Discern the difference between addressing it in person and in the digital space, as young people increasingly face online bias and harassment. Teach them alliance skills and the many ways to act as an ally, defender and activist.
- Explore with young people the multiple ways they can engage in activism. Olivia showed us a variety of strategies, from education to organizing to fundraising. Many young people and adults are taught that activism is all about protesting. It’s important to show them that just as there are many ways to be an ally, there are many ways to engage in activism such as educating others, running for office, raising funds, advocating for legislation, etc.
- Remember that many young people will not act when faced with prejudice and bullying. In fact, many young people will withdraw into themselves and perhaps not tell anyone. Young people are reluctant to report prejudice and bullying to adults, and this reluctance increases with age. As school staff, explore how you can be more accessible so students are more likely to tell you when something is going on. Make sure your school’s bullying, harassment, and non-discrimination policies are up-to-date, reflect district and state guidelines, and include clear definitions and consequences, also incorporating bullying behavior. line.
It’s a tough world right now. From health care to climate change to racism and gun violence, young people face many issues in their lives, issues that are sure to challenge their future. We can help them navigate these choppy waters by showing and inspiring them to do something about the injustice they see in their world. Olivia Julianna’s story is instructive and can help point the way.