By Karis Pearson
Historically, the voices with the ability to speak the loudest in society are typically those in positions of power; politicians, judges, business people, adults. The advent of ever connected social media networks, in which nobody is as proficient as young people, has shifted this balance, giving the youth of today a greater chance to be heard than ever before. As a result, we have proof that time and time again young people are willing and capable to engage in issues which affect them, their country and even the entire planet.
Killer in Our Classroom: Never Again was a BBC Three documentary broadcast last year. It investigated the unfolding of events after students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida used social media to spread a campaign across the globe, taking hold of the debate on gun control in the United States. The campaign, ran by the high school’s students, began after an an ex-pupil used a semi-automatic rifle to kill fourteen of his previous classmates as well as three members of staff on campus grounds.
These young people, including 17-year-old British Senior Lewis Mizen, argued against what they saw as the root cause of the problem, NRA donations to political parties, fighting hard to get politicians to pledge that this would cease. This group of teenagers highlights the capability of young people; having witnessed horrific events and lost friends, they channelled their despair into a campaign which grew to become part of the huge global movement against gun violence in the USA. Not only does this show immense emotional maturity, but is an example of youths taking a stand on a glaring issue of school shootings in US society, an issue which politicians are failing to tackle and which American children and teenagers will continue to face unless changes are made.
Last year, Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg began what has become a series of protests by young people which have come to be high-profile in the media. Despite her age, she has made huge waves in forcing the media and politicians to talk about climate change, not just in her home country but internationally too.
Recently, The Youth Climate march saw students across the UK join the rest of the world in skipping school to march for the Earth. While students of all ages were busy striking for their future, the UK government’s position on the strikes was far from supportive. Andrea Leadsom, leader of the House of Commons, tweeted calling the protests “not a strike” but merely “truancy”. The use of this sort of language is not helpful in creating a dialogue between the government and the activists who, despite their age, are fighting for something which should be at the top of the government’s agenda: the future of the planet on which we all live. Politicians, in my opinion, should not be demeaning young people who have the compassion and the drive to fight for changes they wish to see in the world. They might instead benefit in taking some inspiration from them.
Greta points the finger at politicians obsessed with economic growth, who shy away from fighting for policy which could positively affect the planet, too afraid of bad publicity. Although she was only 15-years old when she began her protest, the actions Greta has taken and the arguments she is continuing to make are not those of an irresponsible truant, despite what politicians may say.
The lack of passion in our politicians becomes clearer when observed next to young people like Great, whose commitment is undeniable. None of the publicity is about furthering a career for Greta, she has even been willing to face a court hearing because of her protesting. The commitment she has to making a stand for the planet has inspired so many other young people to follow in her steps making her goal, to get the media talking about the climate crisis, a success in ways even she may not have have dreamt.
Speaking at the UN conference on Climate Change in Poland at the end of last year, a milestone marking how loud her voice became in just a few short months, Greta declared, “you are never too small to make a difference.”
Continuing the trend of giving a voice to its youth, in January 2019, Welsh Youth Parliament Wales elected its first ever youth parliament, allowing young Welsh people aged 11-18 years to represent the nations youth and engage in the democratic process. The structure of youth parliament is simple, young people raising awareness for the issues that are affecting young people, being backed by young people. It makes perfect sense, yet the greying politicians of Westminster are surely in a state of despair at such an exhibition, mixing devolved representation with a credible group of young people having their say.
In their first Senedd held last month, youth parliament voted in a refreshing fashion, prioritising issues including Emotional and Mental Health Support and Plastic Waste and Littering. These young people are being given the opportunity to be heard and taken seriously, something which feels lacking across society as a whole, but empowering young people to identify the issues which affect them and raise awareness accordingly is crucial if we want to build a world of compassionate and educated people.
While it sounds cliché, the young people of today are the future of tomorrow and when adults forget to listen to the youth, they ignore this. It is easy to grow old and assume to know better than those with less age and experience, but perspective can be paramount and not to state the obvious, but often nobody knows what its like to be in a position better than the person in that position.
The debate on whether to lower the voting age to sixteen is ongoing, but endeavours like youth parliament in Wales pose a good case for it in my opinion. Many public figures argue that young people don’t understand the political sphere well enough, or are just disinterested, as 18-year-olds remain the lowest group for voter turnout. However, if young people are more facilitated to engage and contribute towards solving the issues facing individuals and humanity, which will inevitably come to affect them, this may see more young people inspired to engage.
After the 2017 election, the Oxford English Dictionary declared “youthquake” – a political awakening among millennial voters – its word of the year. This was due, at least in part, to Jeremy Corbyn’s appeal to young voters. The numbers of young voters turning out still weren’t as strong as they could or arguably should be, proving that further, perhaps more instrumental change is needed to convince young people that their voices matter.