Youth Power: Since 2011 Youth Lead Social Movements for Rights

President Barack Obama tweeted that that “Young people have helped lead all our great movements. How inspiring to see it again in so many smart, fearless students standing up for their right to be safe; marching and organizing to remake the world as it should be. We’ve been waiting for you. And we’ve got your backs.” He was speaking to the high school students leading the Never Again movement for gun control after 17 people were shot dead at the Steadman high school in Florida on February 14, 2018.

The Children’s Crusade in Birmingham, Alabama, was an important event in the Civil Rights movement when more than a thousand high school and college students marched for desegregation in May 1963. Police attacks galvanized support for the cause which resulted in desegregation of downtown stores. Also, college students from all over the US participated in Freedom Summer, the 1964 voter registration drive in Mississippi. They helped organize 50 Freedom Schools to continue community organizing. College students led the movement for free speech on college campuses, for women’s liberation, environmentalism and protests against the Viet Nam war with demonstrations starting in 1964 to the end in 1973. After decades of less visible activism, young people helped lead the wave of uprisings that started with the Arab Spring in 2011, and in the US the Dreamer movement for Latinx immigrants, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and the Never Again movement for gun control.

A large youth generation changes the cultural climate just as the Baby Boomers did in the 1960s. An even bigger group of young people, Generations Y and Z, will certainly change our global future because about half of the world’s current population is under age 30, over 60% of them growing up in the global South. Almost two billion people are ages 10 to 24. Their stories provide a glimpse into how to prepare for their horizontal leadership style and desire for direct democracy. “Do you think the new generation is changing the face of life?” asked SpeakOut student Debraj (16, m, India). Answering “yes” to Debraj’s question is one of the points of this book series. “When we think about the legacy of your generation, you’re going to define it. And in doing so, you’ll define the world,” predicted Zeenat Rahman, Special Advisor to the US Secretary of State and Director of the Office of Global Youth Issues.

In a 2013 address to youth UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “young people are shaping the world” because they’re half the world’s population in a “youth quake.” He asked them, “Are you ready to shake things up?” He told world leaders to listen to young people and to women and to respond to their needs because youth know how to use social media to “change history,” as they did in the Arab Spring and will continue to do over the long run.[i] I list over 40 youth-led uprisings since 2011. For example, in Asia, Hong Kong students are the most active in fighting for independence from the mainland, known as the Umbrella Movement of 2014, who formed their own party called Demosisto. Beijing retaliated by putting some of the rebel leaders in jail and prohibiting two of them from being seated in the legislature, despite being voted in. It also prohibited Agnes Chow, 21, from running in a 2018 election. Taiwan’s minority party became the majority in the legislature and elected a woman president who promised to work on finding jobs for youth with a new model of economic development, actions traced to the Sunflower movement, as is the formation of the New Power party. Similarly, in South Korea the opposition party gained a majority in the 2016 elections due to the turnout of voters in their 20s and 30s to protest the status quo. Japanese students were galvanized by the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in 2011 to protest against more nuclear plants and militarization.

[i] http://www.unmultimedia.org/radio/library/2013/03/81764.html

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