Why youth are leading climate strikes

The Sept. 20 protests over global heating reflect a rise in youth-led activism and the particular perspectives of young people, starting with their innocence.

AP
Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, center, takes part in the Sept. 20 Climate Strike protest in New York. 

From Hong Kong to Russia to Sudan, 2019 has been quite a year for youth-led activism. In the United States, students from Parkland, Florida, the scene of a gun massacre last year, keep setting a model for what young people can do. With a receptivity to simple truths, youth bring a purity to almost any cause – from national debt to democracy. It helps attract the attention of jaded adults. Children, after all, are the future. Now with many of them tapping into social media’s connective power, they want the rest of the world to know they are very present.

On Sept. 20, youth activism went global in a well-orchestrated “school climate strike.” In the spotlight during the marches and protests was 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. With moral clarity, she has challenged adults to truly love their children by changing their energy habits to avoid climate disaster. Even as she sounds an alarm, she also foresees a future free from harm. And that is the clarity. A childlike vision can help replace fear with freedom.

Today’s youth-led causes – often with assistance from adults – can trace their roots to the 19th century when children worked in coal mines and factories. In the 1950s and ’60s, youth were active in the U.S. civil rights and anti-war movements. A pattern has been established, especially in helping heal the rifts between generations over issues such as government debt, carbon pollution, and the steady erosion of civic freedoms and rights. In Hong Kong’s protests, young people are arguing with their elders as much as with Beijing.

Anger often drives adult-led protests. With so little political power, youth rely instead on their collective traits, such as an openness to truth and a willingness to expect good in their lives. Their activism comes out of an innocence that is often mistaken as naiveté. Yet it is innocence they seek, whether in preserving a pristine environment or the integrity of a democracy. They should not have to carry the weight of the world. But when they do, the future does not look so bleak.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.