The first weekend in June, a sea change of shorn heads, septum rings, inked skin and skinny jeans flooded the Teen Vogue Summit, a three-day symposium focused on the hot topics that young Gen Z women care about. While the inaugural summit was held in Los Angeles last year, featuring former presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, California Rep. Maxine Waters, producer Ava DuVernay, Black Lives Matter co-founder DeRey McKesson and young actresses Storm Reid and Black-ish star Yara Shahidi, among others, the second took place June 1-3 at the New School on lower Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.
Organized around the theme #TurnUp and emphasizing grassroots social activism, the panels addressed a grab-bag of progressive topics: cultural representation in the media and combating fake news; menstrual power and reproductive justice; LGBTQ+ rights; bipartisan environmentalism in the face of climate change; and humane immigration policy, among others.
Featured influencers included #GlamUpTheMidterms’ Billy Eichner, New York mayoral candidate Cynthia Nixon (aka Miranda from Sex and the City), environmental activist and former vice president Al Gore, best-selling Hate U Give YA author Angie Thomas, ally-rapper Common, Planned Parenthood’s former president Cecile Richards and Parkland gun-reform advocate Emma González — the inspiration behind so many of those buzz cuts and arguably the event’s biggest draw (though comedian Hasan Minhaj and his biceps got lots of fangirling, too).
Attendees came from all corners of the country, including Los Angeles.
“It’s really thrilling to see,” said Jen Tolentino, director of policy and civic tech at Rock the Vote and a resident of the Fairfax District. On-site to help register any freshly minted or soon-to-turn-18-year-olds — and in sync with the 20-state voter registration bus tour the Parkland survivors would announce mere days later — Tolentino observed a “very high number” of L.A. teens at the summit who were either excited to vote or had already sent in their absentee ballot for the primary election on June 5.
“Rock the Vote created a California voter guide with responses from all the candidates,” Tolentino told L.A. Weekly. “We asked them their positions on gun reform, gun violence prevention, criminal justice reform, women’s rights, climate change — the issues that matter to young voters.” Armed with that information, Angelenos in the Apple for the summit could make decisions about the now-past primary and, going forward, the midterm elections in November. “They can be informed about which candidates align with their values,” Tolentino said.
“Definitely the survivors from Parkland, Florida,” Aicha Sacko, a 17-year-old New Yorker rocking glamazon streaks of gold luminizer, confirmed when asked which speakers had most impacted her.
“They did the March for Our Lives within five weeks [of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting]. Definitely her. Emma González showed me who I want to be. To speak up,” Sacko told L.A. Weekly. “I was in the back of the auditorium, emotional. It was really moving.”
Validating talks advocating sexual, gender and cultural parity prompted choruses of finger snaps, and Drag Race-winning queen Sasha Velour in full royal pink regalia probably racked up the most Instagram posts, but the fear of gun violence and the need for gun reform may have been the motivation behind many of the teens’ attendance. Sixteen-year-old Shandra Rogers, who organized her Lower East Side school district’s walkout for stricter gun legislation in April, said the person who most impressed her at the summit wasn’t even there — except in spirit.
“Hadiya Pendleton. She died five years ago,” Rogers said of the 15-year-old from Chicago who, mistaken for a rival gang member, was shot in a Chicago park a week after performing at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration. Her murder led to the Wear Orange movement because — as Pendleton’s friend Nza-Ari Khepra explained on the “Gun Control Beyond Mass Shootings” panel — “Orange is the color hunters wear in the woods so that they’re seen. We kids deserve protection too. To be seen. We shouldn’t be hunted in our own cities.”
“It’s just another example of how black lives get taken every day,” Rogers told L.A. Weekly, chatting by the TOMS Shoes pop-up selfie station while servers circulated with trays of fruity Lifeway drinks during Saturday’s post-program mocktail hour. “And of how institutionalized racism and the school-to-prison pipeline are so connected to gun violence.” Clifton Kinnie, a youth leader in the Ferguson BLM movement who had spoken on the same panel as Khepra, predicted that the next president, or Martin Luther King Jr., or Angela Davis, was right there in the audience. That the students already had the will and the power to get things done.
Listening to Rogers left no doubt. “I have so much more to fight for,” she vowed. “I’m not going to let Hadiya’s death go unnoticed.”
With so many intense sessions packed into just two days, yoga and a meditation room were available to anyone in need of a moment of Zen. And while there was one session devoted to style — “Democracy, but Make It Fashion” promoted a gender-fluid approach to dressing and discussed sexual assault in the modeling industry — Teen Vogue’s identity as a print magazine dedicated to selling celebrity gossip and designer clothes is so 2016. Beginning with its laser-sharp analysis of the last presidential campaign, and now online only, the brand has been reborn as a locus for energized, organized and politically articulate youth activists who might also like to know about Rihanna’s latest lip gloss palette or Ariana’s surprise engagement to Pete. In March, its digital cover featuring school shooting survivors, including González tearing a target-practice sheet in two, became a viral sensation. Under the direction of chief content officer Phillip Picardi and executive editor Samhita Mukhopadadhyay, the digital publication remains at the center of the cultural conversation.
If you are, or know, a West Coast woke teen who wants to channel their inner activist and change the system without the 3,000-mile cross-country trip, no worries: The next Teen Vogue Summit, focusing on all things career, is coming back to Los Angeles this fall, Nov. 30 through Dec. 1.