I watched spellbound as Greta Thunberg made her powerful, moving speech to world leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit. I was struck by how young people have risen to the major challenges facing us. The last 18 months have been full of political, environmental and social change. Issues such as sexual harassment, LGBT rights, regime changes, US gun control laws, democracy movements and climate change have taken center stage. And in every single case, it’s young people who have been at the forefront of these movements. From the US to Europe and from Sudan to Hong Kong, it’s young people who have taken the leadership role.
Let’s take last Friday’s Global Climate Strike as an example. In August 2018, Greta was alone in skipping class to protest climate inaction. Following her lead, young people have been walking out of school in larger numbers. It culminated in last Friday’s Global Climate Strike. Worldwide, over 4 million people in 2000 cities joined the school strike. That’s remarkable growth in just over a year. Young people have addressed both the US Congress and leaders at the United Nations Climate Summit. This has been a spectacular month for youth activism.
Youth activism in making far-reaching changes is not new. Hermione Granger’s S.P.E.W. is a case in point 🙂 But more seriously. A look back at recent social and environmental movements prove that youth activism CAN shape the debate around climate change.
A proud history of activism
We are approaching the 60th anniversary of the Greensboro sit-ins where
students flouted segregation by asking to be served. Young people played an important role throughout the American civil rights movement’s crucial points. They helped to desegregate schools, challenge racism and increase voter registration. The Vietnam War protests, the Tiananmen Square protests, the Hong Kong democracy protests, the Arab Spring and the US gun control protests are notable youth movements over the last 50 years. The common theme in these protests was that there was a single clear authority to protest against.
A tough challenge
Today’s young climate change activists face a much tougher challenge than their predecessors. How do you get change when there is no single entity that can pass the required laws and guidelines? Change will have to come from protests individually in each country.
While getting through to politicians is tough, global business leaders may be a better audience. With an estimated purchasing power of US$ 44B globally, companies are looking to tap into Gen Z’s purchasing power. And recent campaigns by young activists have succeeded in making some companies change their ways.
Young activists have used social media and digital platforms in innovative ways to connect with each other and to organize leaderless protests. Companies that want to understand how these digital natives use social media, are racing to connect with them.
As with any activism, persuading people to change is always an uphill task. But
the one thing that today’s youth activists have shown is their desire for a better society. Governments, corporations and ordinary people – all need to buy into tackling climate change. If the young activists can speed up this process, then more power to them! After all as Mahatma Gandhi once said “The earth, the air, the land and the water are not an inheritance from our forefathers, but on loan from our children.”