In recent years, youth across the world have become an increasingly vocal and influential group. Nationally, American youth have led much of the discussion and advocacy on issues that impact the young demographic as a whole the most, such as climate change and gun control, but they have also made significant footholds in other important political movements involving race, gender, and sexuality.
The most accessible form of political advocacy for youth has usually been protests and rallies. Globally, teens have begun taking the initiative by organizing such events by themselves, further moving young people into the focus of politics. For example, Fridays For Future Movement, founded by the internationally recognized 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg of Sweden, demands political action to prevent climate change through students taking time off class to participate in demonstrations. What began as a one-person strike has erupted into an international movement involving millions of youth.
However, political backlash has undermined the legitimacy of youth advocacy. Critics of movements like Fridays for Future condemn students for missing school to take part in political demonstrations. They argue that the youth are too young to be taking part in politics and should focus on their studies and enjoy their adolescent years.
Yet the youth have demonstrated the need for their advocacy in politics today. Because of youth movements, political leaders are increasingly under pressure to stay accountable and take action when they may have otherwise been passive. While adults may raise concerns about students missing school, the youth have demonstrated that doing so is perhaps the only way to gather widespread public attention. At the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit, Greta Thunberg stated in her address to world leaders, “This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you come to us young people for hope?”
Not only are the youth an effective voice, but as the sharing of information becomes faster and easier with the rise of social media and technology, they are becoming the most responsible generation of citizens to date. According to the United States Election project, 46.9 percent of eligible voters did not vote in the 2016 general election. With such a lack of voter interest and representation, politicians may have gotten away with poor job performance. However, as young people reach the voting age, it is certain that they will become the most powerful voting bloc in history.
We must support youth voices instead of discouraging and silencing them. In this modern age, the foundation of a strong democracy – informed citizens – is aided better than ever by modern technology. As we go forward in the 21st century, we are increasingly aware of how many problems really threaten our world. More than ever, we need youth voices to not simply be heard, but used as a means of positive and tangible change.
By Antonio Wu