Note: to avoid confusion, please be aware that this article was published after the School Strike for Climate in March 2019.
The School Strike for Climate was massive!
Not only did we see young people stand up for an issue they are passionate about, but we also saw a lot of commentary about young people, their political contributions, and how different sections of society see them.
On one hand, you had journalists and politicians saying that young people don’t deserve to be heard, that their ideas aren’t mature enough, and that they should go back to school. They called the young people ‘kids’, ‘children’, ‘adolescents’ and ‘teenagers’, which had the effect of infantilising and trivialising what the young people were doing.
And on the other hand you had people doing damage the other way. There were people in the media and in parliament gushing over how ‘our kids’ were ‘putting their Pokemon Go to the side’ and doing something meaningful. They talked about how ‘our future leaders’ were showing that they ‘will one day be a force to be reckoned with’. Well, that’s nice, but why are they future leaders? Because it looks a lot like they are leaders right now. They’re citizens, and this is what citizens, regardless of their age, do when they feel frustrated with the people who are meant to represent them.
We’re fascinated by the language surrounding the strikes because it says a lot about how society views the political and democratic contributions of young people.
It shows how threatened or uncomfortable some segments of society are with the fact that these citizens are more connected and informed than any previous generation, and they’re using those tools to band together to stand up for things they’re passionate about.
Whether it’s March For Our Lives, the Don’t Kill Live Music rallies, being a vocal part of the Marriage Equality movement or leading the School Strike for Climate - This isn’t about ‘giving young people a voice’. They’ve always had a voice. This is about those in power finally being forced to listen.
And, because they can’t combat the righteousness of the claims the young people are making, the only move those in power have is to trivialise the fact that it’s young people delivering the message – so it’s time we call that out.
If you see language that describes young people as anything other than complete and competent citizens doing things complete and competent citizens do, then call it out. Challenge people to be better.
Language is powerful.
So let’s make sure we get the language right. Let’s make sure we elevate the views of young people.
Don’t just “listen to the voice of young people” – amplify it, make it deafening and support them as they drive change.