From the Parkland activists to the teenagers pushing for climate justice, young, digital-savvy people are fighting to make the world a better placeby Ella Robertson / August 10, 2018 / Leave a comment
On 4 May 1970, four students were shot dead by National Guardsmen at Kent State University, Ohio, where students had been protesting the United States’ incursion into Cambodia during the Vietnam War. It was an expansion to a war that President Richard Nixon had promised to end.
The massacre—which wounded nine others—triggered further nationwide protests at colleges throughout the USA. The largest student strike in American history, 4 million students shut down some 450 campuses.
Almost five decades on, different but equally tragic circumstances saw the deaths of 17 school students at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida when Nikolas Cruz opened fire on Valentine’s Day 2018.
Parkland was by no means the first—nor is it now even the most recent shooting—on a school or college campus since Kent State. But for many, it was the final straw.
The March For Our Lives just over one month later saw more than 1 million protestors take part in over 800 events across the country, led by Parkland survivors including now-famous activist Emma Gonzalez. It was the largest student-led protest in the US since Vietnam.
Young people have been the leaders of social movements all over the world for at least the last century. From the Warsaw Ghetto uprising led by Mordechai Anielewicz’s ŽOB to the Tiananmen Square protests for democracy in 1989 China, young leaders’ passion for social justice has been central to world change.
The power of social media
I continue to see the power of young people as managing director of One Young World. As the global forum for young leaders, we annually hold a Summit which is only topped by the Olympics in terms of countries represented—more than 196, at the last count as well as representatives from the Refugee Nation.
One Young World hosts business, political and civic leaders every year at our annual Summit and few of them find anything quite as nerve-racking as a room 1,500 iPhone-wielding, fact-checking and Tweet-composing millennials.
Social movements have always been led by young rabble rousers, but the way in which social media has improved the efficacy of activism has landed young people a seat at the table which would never have been granted fifty, or even ten years ago.
The estimated figure of 1.2 million involved in the March For Our Lives is not a full representation of how many engaged with the movement. Social media provided the opportunity for those who could not physically make it to a march, to take part through online engagement with the cause.
More than 3.6 million tweets tagging #MarchForOurLives were posted on the same day, and the total number of online posts about the movement between 14 February and 24 March was almost 12 million.
Delivering aid quickly
We see this too with Malala, who garnered support and attention for her bravery in the face of enormous adversity—especially because she was so young.
And now, Malala is using the tools at her disposal to globalise her campaign: flanked on her 21st birthday trip by three social media influencers, former Teen Vogue editor Elaine Welteroth and One Young World Counsellors Juanpa Zurita and Jerome Jarre, who have used their platforms to circumvent traditional giving methods and deliver aid more quickly during emergencies.
Whether it’s Jarres’s #LoveArmyforSomalia, or #SOSNicaragua, social media’s power cannot be overstated.
#SOSNicaragua emerged in April and has helped to spread the otherwise suppressed reporting of horrific events unfolding in the Central American country, where paramilitaries backed by the Nicaraguan government have slaughtered hundreds of demonstrating civilians, with many more wounded, kidnapped or ‘disappeared’.
Once again, students have been central to leading protests, with hundreds occupying a campus of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua between early May and mid-July, where two protestors were eventually killed.
In Iran, anti-government protests have been raging on and off for almost a year, with almost 5,000 arrested in December and January alone, five of whom died in custody. A number of the detained were done so as a preventative measure having not been actively involved in demonstrations, and authorities fearful of the way in which technology has irrevocably emboldened young people.
The politics of Twitter
Radical transparency and communication amplification are undoubtedly making the politics of Twitter the politics of the age—more and more we are seeing young people acting as the antidote to Trump’s brand of alternative facts.
This year, One Young World will be holding its first Politician of the Year award, celebrating the five best young political leaders from around the world.
We hope to connect the millennial generation—who are now more than 50 per cent of the world’s population—with their peers in leadership roles.
Fewer than two per cent of parliamentary representatives across the globe are under-35, so it is vital to highlight the work of those who are – voters are often energised by seeing young, diverse faces on the ballot as has been evidenced by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (28) in New York and Botswana’s youngest minister Bogolo Kenewendo (31) who has become an African internet sensation.
But it’s not just politicians making a difference. I am continually inspired by the thousands of ambassadors from across the globe who attend One Young World each year. Every single one is looking to make real change for the nations they represent, and I am proud to represent a platform that continues to empower our current and future leaders.