Photo: Official account of @fridays4future movement for Bangladesh

Thousands of young people across the world protested Friday for global action on climate change. Kayla Glaraton writes on the power of protest and the need for global leaders to listen to the youth activists’ demands.

From Australia to Kenya and New York to Minnesota, young people took to the streets Friday. The Sept. 20 strike may have been the largest environmental protest in history, with thousands coming out to demand from global leaders. It demonstrated the power of the world’s young people. 

The Global Climate Strike is a weeklong event spanning the globe. According to its main website, citizens in 150 countries are set to participate. It highlights the sense of urgency felt across the world in protecting the environment and reversing climate change. It also shows how the lack of action from corporations and world leaders to fix the issue has frustrated enough people to leave work and school to protest.

The rise in youth-led protests, from March For Our Lives to Friday’s climate marches, is a spark of hope in the world. Although many of those protesting are not old enough to vote or hold elected office, they have their voices. There is power in standing up to those with the ability to shape the laws that govern a nation. 

History shows that the act of protesting is both common and successful, particularly in the United States. Even if laws stay the same, success comes when the conversation surrounding the issue changes. The right to protest is so essential to democracy, in fact, that it is guaranteed to Americans in the Bill of Rights

Historical Examples of Youth Activism

The United States was built on protests. The Boston Tea Party and the slogan, “no taxation without representation,” helped build the American revolution. History is full of examples of successful protests, as well as failures. The history of youth activism in America and throughout the world shows the power of young people.

In 1960, four teenagers from North Carolina decided to protest segregation. Their plan was simple: sit at a lunch counter and refuse to leave until they were served. This simple act created the idea of sit-ins as a way to bring awareness to the issue of segregation in the United States.

By 1970, the idea of being drafted to fight in Vietnam was unpopular to many young Americans. In fact, many were against the war continuing. Following President Richard Nixon’s decision to invade Cambodia, students at Ohio’s Kent State University began protesting. Four students were ultimately killed by National Guardsmen. 

In 1989, a pro-democracy protest led by students began in Beijing. Thirty years later, the nation is still not a democracy. The Tiananmen Square protests, however, showed the world how far the Chinese government was willing to go to prevent dissenters from gaining power. It also displayed the power and courage one single action can have.

A Swedish Teen Inspires the World

Friday’s climate change protests were not sparked by one single person or scientific report. It was a coming together of many factors and a rise in support for the scientific community, which has been trying to sound the alarms on climate change for decades.

However, one young woman has become an international symbol for both climate change protest and youth activism. Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old from Stockholm, had a very humble start to her journey in becoming one of the world’s foremost climate change activists. 

She began protesting in front of the Swedish parliament in August 2018. She was all alone. On Friday, Tunberg was joined by millions, from New Delhi to Berlin, in her fight to save the planet. This massive transformation took only 13 months.

There is no question that this is a youth-led event. Many of the protestors are still in school, yet they all understand that climate change is endangering everyone, not just a single nation or continent. Through the use of social media, the frustration felt by all at a lack of action by global leaders spilled over and made history.

Thunberg came to the United States for the United Nations Climate Action Summit. The event, which takes place Sept. 23, will be preceded by a Youth Climate Summit on Sept. 21. The summit will take place at the U.N. Headquarters in New York City.

Impact of March for Our Lives Continues

Part of Thunberg’s inspiration for her school strike for climate change was March for Our Lives. Seeing American students leave school to protest current gun laws gave her and idea. The students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas made her wonder, “what if children did that for climate change?”

March 2018’s March for Our Lives is one of the best examples of the power of youth activism. Thousands of students across the United States left class to show the nation that they were tired of living in fear of a mass shooting occuring in their own schools. Although there was no significant, national gun reform, these students still made an impact.

The young people of Parkland changed the conversation around gun legislation reform. Yet they did not stop there. They traveled across the country, speaking to other teenagers and young students about the importance of youth activism. They also worked to increase voter turnout among young adults.

The survivors of the Parkland school shooting inspired the nation’s schoolchildren to protest years of inaction from Washington. They also motivated a teenager living thousands of miles away in Sweden to stand up for climate change. Thunberg has turned her single act of protest into global demands for an end to climate change.

These children do not hold any substantial power now. But one day they will and they know it. Soon, they will be voting. Youth activism is a powerful tool, as all protest is, because it changes the narrative. If the world gives Friday’s protest, and those yet to come, the attention it deserves, the young people of the Earth will save humanity.

Kayla Glaraton

Kayla Glaraton is a Generation Z Voice at The Pavlovic Today. Her interests include human rights, American politics and policy, the environment and international affairs. Kayla is studying journalism and...