Youth activism in the time of lockdown

As lockdown has forced many protests off the streets, the online space has become an opportunity to enact vital change.

A climate strike with crowds of young people holding banners
Image: Babs Daly

The founder of Youth For Positive Change shares how youth activism has continued in the face of the lockdown.

It’s surprising to think that nine months ago four million of us took to the streets to protest inaction on the climate crisis.

In the months following, the youth climate movement was everywhere: young activists were invited to speak to Congress, Greta Thunberg was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year, and here in Ireland 157 of us took over the Dáil.

Apart from the media, who positioned our movement as the “next big thing,” conversations around the environment became commonplace – even older adults and those typically not concerned with social issues found themselves discussing climate change.

For a short time, it almost seemed that young people like myself were setting the agenda. We had become a moral clarion to those who had embraced action and those who had simply grown indifferent. For young people it seemed like things couldn’t get better. We had the public platform we craved. We were being listened to by politicians. We were helping to shape policy. We were making a real difference.

And then came lockdown. And with it an end to public demonstrations, protests and our time in the media spotlight. Suddenly, it seemed like the movement that had come to define our generation had passed.

Or had it?

The truth is that the climate change movement we had brought about had always been more than the street protests, the school strikes, the marching on government buildings. Behind the glossy exterior of perfectly synchronised chants and colourful protest signs, our activism ran much deeper. Sure, the school protests helped us to draw much-needed attention to the environment. But in other ways, they had come to overshadow the other great work we were doing here in Ireland and the rest of the world.

From Somalia to Singapore to Brazil, young activists had been mobilizing for years in smaller but equally valuable ways. Hidden away from the media’s spotlight, young people had been raising awareness of mental health issues, fighting for LGBT+ rights, shining a light on the gender pay gap, opening up the conversation on immigration and much more.

And while many regret the impact the lockdown has had on the youth climate movement, others – myself included – are more optimistic.

Because with the lockdown in place, we haven’t gone away, we have simply regrouped online, where we are as active and engaged as ever. And even more importantly, the lockdown has created the opportunity for other youth movements, smaller perhaps but just as important, to flourish and gain support.

So, in the spirit of togetherness and community that the lockdown has brought about, please join me in saying a big “thank you” to all the young people out there who are making our world a better place for everyone.

To learn more about youth activism and Youth For Positive Change by visiting their website here.

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