A 16-year-old from Sweden. Thousands of protesters. Countless celebrity endorsements.
The Climate Strike movement has swelled to an international news story that is putting youth activism in a spotlight that it hasn’t seen since Vietnam. In order for politics to change and our world to grow and improve, the younger generations need to take a large role in issues.
Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old from Sweden, has become the face of the Climate Strike movement. Thunberg has become an international celebrity and has done everything from speaking at the U.N. to staring death lasers into the back of President Donald Trump’s head in what will assuredly become one of the most popular memes of 2019. Thunberg is one of many that have stepped up and spoken out about an issue that will largely affect young people rather than older generations.
Climate change effects will only continue to get worse, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and scientists around the globe.
Climate Strike has been attacked by the same language that has been used to dissuade athletes from speaking out on political issues: “Shut up and do whatever it is you do,” instead of being involved in the debate. This is a fundamental flaw in logic and not how democracy works.
The overwhelming majority of Americans are not full-time politicians and have other obligations outside of politics such as getting an education, a nine-to-five job or, yes, even athletics. Democracy is participation by the people. This includes not just those that are “adults” with full-time jobs, but everyone — even those who do not seek to be informed and involved so they can lead when it is their time.
This isn’t the only instance of young people fighting for things that will largely affect them. It wasn’t that long ago that a national walkout over gun violence and school shootings were at the forefront of American and global politics. Political issues don’t just affect those above the age of 30 and people old enough to run for office — they affect the lives of all around them and can affect future generations for much longer.
The average age in the U.S. Congress is reaching record highs, according to the Congressional Research Service. An informed and engaged youth is crucial for a democratic system to run properly. People have a right to vote for those who represent their interests, and with one of the oldest Congressional bodies in U.S. history, young people have a responsibility to keep those in office in check.
The fiasco that was the Mark Zuckerberg hearings illustrated one thing clearly: many of our politicians are woefully inept when it comes to understanding technology. Sen. Orrin Hatch famously not understanding that ad revenue is a common practice in the 21st century illustrates the danger of having aging lawmakers with little understanding of something as major as social media in 2019.
The Climate Strike movement is an example of young people making a push. National media attention, lawmakers weighing in on the debate and getting to speak in front of the U.N — all of this happened because young people decided to step up and lead.
Organizing and participating in movements like these forces others to pay attention and hear what the movement has to say whether they agree or not.
Thunberg should not need to step up and lead, but she did because she felt strongly about an issue that would largely affect her and those close to her age. Politics are a chaotic and messy process that never ends and requires participation from all.