Now more than ever, all eyes are on our world leaders. And many of these eyes belong to the younger generation, known as Gen Z. (Born in the mid-1990s to early-2000s.) With the issue of climate change becoming a global crisis, Trump’s border control policies impacting immigrant children, plus the rise of school shootings, these issues can no longer be ignored.
This post will mostly focus on two of those major topics: climate change and gun violence.
The Global Climate Strikes
Last week, Global Climate Strikes took place all over the world, a protest to demand action regarding climate change. According to Wikipedia, “the strikes’ key dates include 20 September, which was three days before the United Nations Climate Summit, and 27 September, together with the full week from 20 to 27 September proposed for a worldwide general climate strike, the Earth Strike.” The event was part of the school strike for climate movement, led and inspired by Swedish climate activist, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg. It was the largest climate strike in world history.
Over 4 million people participated in these strikes worldwide, the majority of them being young students. The L.A. Times comments on Gen Z activism: “How fortunate we are that members of Gen Z are devoting their adolescences to correcting our country’s painful course, the conditions of which elder generations created or enabled by our inaction.”
Greta, a 16-year-old environmental activist from Sweden, has become the face of Gen Z activism. In May of this year, TIME magazine named her a “next generation role model,” and the media has even dubbed her influence across the world as the “Greta Thunberg effect.” Greta has used social media as a tool to spread her message of urgency about climate change, all starting when she posted pictures of her solo strike outside of the Swedish Parliament. The purpose of her strike was to demand that the Swedish government work to reduce carbon emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement.
- “August 2019: a doubling in the number of children’s books being published which address the climate crisis was reported, with a similar increase in the sales of such books—all aimed at empowering young people to save the planet.
- Inspired by Thunberg, wealthy philanthropists and investors from the United States have donated almost half a million pounds to support Extinction Rebellion and school strike groups to establish the Climate Emergency Fund.
- February 2019: Thunberg shared a stage with the then President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. Climate issues also played a significant role in European elections in May 2019, as Green parties nearly doubled their vote, boosting their MEP numbers to a projected 71. Many of the gains came from northern European countries where young people have taken to the streets inspired by Thunberg.
- June 2019: Swedish Railways (SJ) reported that the number of Swedes taking the train for domestic journeys had risen by 8% from the previous year, reflecting growing public concern about the impact of flying on CO2 emissions that is highlighted by Thunberg’s refusal to fly to international conferences.
- Being embarrassed or ashamed to take a plane because of its environmental impact has been described on social media as ‘Flygskam’ or “Shame of flying”, along with the hashtag #jagstannarpåmarken, which translates as #istayontheground.” –Wikipedia
March For Our Lives
Gun violence in schools is a deadly trend.“Since April 17, 2007, 320 people have been shot on college and university campuses in the U.S.,” according to the Collegiate Times. And it’s no secret that gun violence in the U.S. has significantly increased in the last decade. “2018 was the highest year for the number of victims killed, including the shooter, with 51 killed,” with California, Texas and Florida being the states that have experienced the most school shootings, according to Campus Safety Magazine.
In March of last year, an estimate of 2 million people across the U.S. participated in “March For Our Lives” to end gun violence in schools, making it one of the largest protests in American history. This march occurred after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida in February of last year.
Gen Z faces an entirely knew set of problems. As school shootings continue to occur across the U.S., sitting and waiting for someone to do something is no longer an option – so students are standing up for themselves. This recent video produced by Sandy Hook Promise depicts that – students are now taking on adult roles in an attempt to preserve their futures.
New Ways of Activism
Social media is the number one tool for young activists to connect with each other, share opinions, and set up events/gatherings. With access to instantaneous sites like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, activism has gone digital. According to PEW, “around half of Americans have engaged in some form of political or social-minded activity on social media in the past year.”
“White Gen-Zers are more willing to explore and understand racial politics and issues, in part because POC Gen-Z have the ability to be more vocal through social media.” –KultureHub
Paralleling activism in the ’60s/’70s, music is still a popular way to protest. Popular U.K. alternative band, The 1975, recently released a self-titled single, “The 1975,” which features a powerful 4 minutes of Greta Thunberg urging people to “wake up” and get involved. This was an incredibly effective way to reach Gen Z activists and beyond, as the band’s target audience tends to fall in that category. Listen here:
Why Do Gen Z Kids Care?
School shootings. Climate change. #BlackLivesMatter. #MeToo. Child immigrants. All these issues impact younger generations and their lives directly. In addition, with more and more of these issues becoming popular points of conversation, a trend is on the rise. Abby Leedy, an 18-year-old co-coordinator of the Sunrise Movement’s Philadelphia hub, spoke with The Intercept on why people her age are so in-tune with world issues:
“She first got interested in activism her freshman year, and in the time since — marked by Donald Trump’s election, and the upswing in youth activism following the Parkland school shooting (an inspiration to Thunberg) — has seen it go more mainstream, reaching beyond the usual suspects. ‘There’s just a lot more people, and it seems a lot more socially acceptable,’ she said. ‘It’s cooler to care about political stuff, which is really exciting.'”
Gen Z and young activists refuse to stay silent any longer. What will you speak up about?
All photos are free from Pixabay.