On March 15 of this year an estimated 1.4 million students from 112 countries skipped school to take part in the Global Climate Strike for the Future, a worldwide protest to prevent further global warming and climate change.
This massive coordinated protest showed not only that children are our future, but also our present, too. It's clear that young people are often the voices of change and of challenge and are frequently the ones standing up for justice, fairness and humanity when supposed "adults" appear more interested in conducting themselves in ways that are somewhere between indifferent and outright evil.
Time and time again, young people have shown they care deeply about the world around them and are often willing to take great risk and make great sacrifice to effect positive change. For example, just yesterday on April 4 thousands of school children in the province of Ontario declared a strike and walked out of their classes to protest proposed cuts to education funding... and, presumably, the quality of their future learning.
Samaritanmag collected 10 examples of activism from young people that aims to make the world a better place.
See the list below:
Greta Thunberg, climate change
One of the central figures connected to the Global Climate Strike for the Future was Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden. In August 2018 Thunberg was motivated by heat waves and wildfires happening in Sweden to go on a school strike to combat climate change, protesting in front of the Swedish parliament building. By December 2018 more than 20,000 students had joined her in regular school strike protests. In the time since then, Thuberg's profile has risen along with the relentlessness of her activism. Having become a vegetarian and given up flying to reduce her footprint on the world, Thunberg has made Tedx appearances, spoke at this year's United Nations Climate Change Conference, spoke at the World Economic Forum and appeared at numerous climate change protests. Because of her efforts Time Magazine has named her one of the 25 most influential teenagers in the world.
March For Our Lives, gun control
On March 24, 2018 more than 1.8 million young people in the United States and around the world marched in support of stronger gun violence prevention measures. Motivated by the events at Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida on Feb.14, 2018 where a lone gunman killed 17 students and staff and injured 17 others, activists were quick in their pursuit of stricter gun control measures. March For Our Lives protesters are pressing state and federal U.S. governments to implement measures such as universal background checks on gun sales, increased age limits on gun ownership, bans on high-capacity bullet magazines and the guns that have been modified to use them. Within days of the protest a number of states enacted stricter gun control laws, including "red flag" legislations to take guns away from those who are potentially violent, and bans on certain high-powered gun paraphernalia. As an added bonus, a number of corporate partners with the pro-gun National Rifle Association chose to cut ties with the organization.
Malala Yousafzai, female education
Now 21, Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest ever Nobel Prize laureate. Yousafzai's activism started between the ages 11 and 12 when she began writing blog posts for BBC Urdu about the Taliban occupation of the Swat district in Pakistan. The Taliban had banned girls from attending school and Yousafzai became a prominent media figure in protest against this to the point where the New York Times made a documentary about her. In 2012 a Taliban gunman shot Yousafzai and two other girls in an assassination attempt while they were taking exams. Though Yousafzai was struck in the head with a bullet she survived and the act of violence only served to rally more people to support her cause. Now based in Birmingham, UK, Yousafzai works to further female education around the world through the Malala Fund, which funds the education of girls between the ages of 14-18.
Birmingham Children's Crusade, racial desegregation
In the early 1960s Birmingham, Alabama was considered one of the most racially segregated places in America. Activists including Martin Luther King Jr., James Bevel, Fred Shuttlesworth had campaigned for area business leaders to open employment opportunities to all races and to end segregation in public facilities, restaurants, schools and stores. Shuttlesworth's efforts drew little support, though. That is, until Bevel enlisted college, high school and elementary students to take up their cause in April and May 1963. The students were tasked with marching in groups of 50 at a time to Birmingham City Hall to speak to the mayor about segregation policies. The students, who had been trained in non-violent activism by Bevel and their team, were attacked with high-pressure water hoses by the Birmingham Police Department as well as police attack dogs. More than a thousand students were arrested for taking part in the protest. The intense scrutiny around the police actions forced the city into enacting a number of desegregation members. The Birmingham crusade is also considered one of the events that helped Martin Luther King Jr. rise to prominence and the main reasons for the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits racial discrimination in hiring practices and public services throughout the United States.
Anton Albede, ending street violence
After the death of 16-year-old Riccardo Campogiani who was violently beaten by five other teenagers in Stockholm, Sweden in October 2007, fellow teenager Anton Albede began a crusade in the country to end street violence. Albede created the group "Bevara oss från gatuvåldet" (Save us from street violence) which had more than 100,000 members at its peak as well as organizing the "stop street violence" demonstration which attracted more than 10,000 people in Stockholm. Aldebe, who's now 27, didn't stop there with his activism. At age 18 he became the youngest ever Member of Parliament in Sweden, thanks to his anti-violence activism.
Arab Spring, democracy
In the spring of 2011 young people in largely Muslim countries including Tunisia, Morocco, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Bahrain engaged in various forms of protest to support democratic reforms in their countries. The beginning of this "Arab Spring" movement has been credited to Mohammed Bouazizi, a Tunisian vegetable stand proprietor who set himself on fire when police seized his business for failing to obtain a government permit. However it was active, plugged-in rage of young people fed up with police corruption, financial hardship, human rights violations and political oppression who took to social media to organize and fan the flames of protest. The end results of these actions have been mixed. Some countries have enacted reforms, but Egypt is now ruled by authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak and places like Libya, Syria and Yemen developed into full-scale civil wars.
Nkosi Johnson, AIDS, HIV
When South African Nkosi Johnson died on June 1, 2001 at age 12 he was the longest-surviving HIV-positive born child on record. Johnson's life was a constant source of both inspiration and controversy. In 1997 he rose to prominence because a public school refused to allow his enrollment, which was a clear violation of South Africa's laws against discrimination on the grounds of medical status. This happened the same year his birth mother Nonthlanthla Daphne Nkosi died of complications from AIDS (volunteer worker Gail Johnson would agree to adopt him). In future years Johnson would go on to make high-profile AIDS awareness speeches at the 13th International Aids Conference in 2000 as well as go on to create Nkosi's Haven with his adoptive mother, an organization which offers "holistic care and support for destitute HIV/AIDS infected mothers, her children, and resulting AIDS orphans." When Johnson died thousands of mourners attended his funeral in Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela said of his activism, "He was very bold about it and he touched many hearts."
Tiananmen Square protests, human rights
Between April and June 1989 young people throughout mainland China rose up to protest the ruling Communist Party and the manner in which the country's increasing participation in the global markets of the world and the perception that things like nepotism and political corruption. would impact citizens. Students took up hunger strikes and protests sprung up throughout China. One of the flashpoints for protest would be Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China where up to 1 million people at a time would gather to demand things like more democratic government, greater accountability and things like freedom of the press and freedom of speech. The government chose the opposite of these ideals, cracking down on protests, declaring martial law and doing things like firing automatic weapons into crowds of protesters. The government would go on to arrest huge swaths of protesters, expel foreign journalists, and strictly control coverage of the events in the domestic press. The protests also created the iconic "tank man" incident where a lone protester stood in front of an entire procession of tanks, challenging them to run him over in the square. Government officials have at times suggested the death toll from these protest was around 300 persons while U.S. reports estimate there had been 10,454 deaths and 40,000 injured. The government eventually successfully ended much of the protest, which has left a lasting legacy of concern over China's record of human rights violations.
Hector Pieterson, Soweto uprising
Twelve year old Hector Pieterson became a figure of resistance when he was shot and killed on June 16, 1976 by police in Soweto, South Africa during the "Soweto Uprising." Pieterson was part of a mass protests against Apartheid, the authoritarian political culture based around the idea of racial segregation in South Africa enforced by a white ruling class that often resulted in cruel treatment of black citizens. Pieterson was among a group of 30 students gathered outside a high school singing the traditional Sotho anthem "Morena Boloka Sechaba Sa Heso" when police arrived and began firing tear gas and bullets at the students. Photographers captured local resident Mbuyisa Makhubo trying to carry Pieterson's limp body to safety. When the outside world saw the image it helped to firm up international protest against Apartheid. The Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum now exists near where Pieterson was shot and his death is now marked annually in South Africa as Youth Day.
Autumn Peltier, water warrior
A 13-year-old member of the Wikwemikong First Nation based around Manitoulin Island in Northern Ontario, Autumn Peltier is a past Children’s International Peace Prize nominee who actively advocates for clean water for Indigenous communities in Canada. As one of Canada's "water warriors" Peltier has spoken at the United Nations for World Water Day and also pointedly confronted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for failing keep his promise to improve drinking water conditions in Indigenous communities. Though Peltier's work is far from done, last year the Canadian government committed $172.6 million in new funds to work towards improving water conditions.
Watch a profile video on Autumn Peltier