‘Lazy’, ‘entitled’ and ‘self-obsessed’ are words which have often been used to characterise the millennial generation. Their supposed apathy towards political and social issues have deemed them irresponsible and therefore unworthy of a seat at the table, barring them from the discussions of the world’s problems they would later inherit.
Angry at how ineffectual leaders have been in addressing the most pressing issues, young people have found a way to bring their own seat. Young activists have emerged worldwide, committed to challenging the status quo, as well as the criticisms their youth carry. The Parkland school shooting in Florida has seen young activists arise from the tragedy, most notably Emma Gonzalez, who is determined to take the issue of gun-control and NRA sponsorship to Washington. The subsequent March for Our Lives protest has been one of the biggest student-organised protests since the Vietnam War.
Across the pond, the UK shows no shortage of young activists. The Guardian has recently highlighted the work of young activists in the field of women’s rights, diversity in the media, refugee welfare and LGBTQ+ rights in particular. In the article, Amika George, Shiden Tekle, Muzoon Al-Mellehan and Ella Jones outline their cause and the actions they have taken to address it.
In London, 18 year old Amika George has been campaigning against period poverty. After watching a report on how girls in the UK are missing school due to their inability to afford menstrual products, Amika decided to take action. To bring awareness to the issue, something she believed the government was avoiding, she launched a petition pressuring the government to provide free menstrual products for children receiving free school meals. Garnering 150,000 supporters to date, she has also taken part in the Women’s March as well as organising her own protest of 1,000 people outside of Theresa May’s bedroom.
Shiden Tekle, an 18 year old from London, is campaigning for greater diversity in the media. His most notable work includes the recreation of famous movie and TV posters with black lead actors to challenge the image and under-representation of black people in the media. A victim of racial abuse since he was 12, Shiden is committed to challenging internal racism as well as the preconceived notions of being black, and how it affects one’s position in employment, society and politics.
In Newcastle, Muzoon Al-Mellehan is a 19 year old advocating for the education of refugees. Her role as the youngest and first refugee Unicef Goodwill Ambassador was earned from her own experiences as a Syrian refugee. Before arriving in the UK, she was in a Jordanian refugee camp, where she encouraged other young people to continue learning while fighting to persuade those who were not as enthusiastic. She hopes to return to Syria one day, but in the meantime she aims to double up on her activism when she enters university.
Finally, Ella Jones is a 19 year old LGBTQ+ rights campaigner from London. Coming out at the age of 14 and consequently suffering from the invasive questions and online abuse she received while in school, she went on to produce YouTube videos aiming to educate people on LGBTQ+ issues. She then continued this as part of the Stonewall youth programme, where she started her own series entitled ‘Queeries’, aiming to provide a platform as well as a space for difficult questions to be discussed. Outside of YouTube, she has worked with her school to help establish support systems and visibility for LGBTQ+ pupils, raising awareness through events and assemblies.
Compared to their predecessors, young activists have the advantage of using the world’s greater interconnectedness, through the internet and social media, to articulate their ideas, disseminate their message and connect with other impassioned individuals and groups from within the perimeters of their own bedroom, should they choose. It is important that enthusiasm for social justice, diversity, equality and environmentalism are nurtured and highlighted in young people; as they go on to inherit a world where decisions made today will have profound consequences on them in the future. These issues are not outside of their comprehension, and it is imperative that young people are given the space and encouragement to engage in shaping policy, citizenship and discourse.
Written by Youth Intern - Vanessa Martins