Monday, June 11, 2012

"Rio Plus Twenties" - The Power of Youth in Social Change

I was recently interviewed in short video for SustainUS, where I talk about my hopes for youth participation in the UN negotiations:

Almost immediately after being uploaded, the video received the following comment:
“If you're "passionate about sustainable development" then study architecture or town planning or something useful. Leave the politics to the adults kid."

This comment showcases a broadly held sentiment against youth participation in societal decision-making, particularly in governance.  As a young person who often engages in activism and advocacy, I have often faced such discrimination while attempting to participate in the political process.  During lobby sessions and other advocacy events, I have observed that policy makers take me and my ideas less seriously than other older members of my groups.  And while politicians often refer to youth as “our future leaders” or use examples of innovative youth initiatives in their speeches, they rarely offer young people real opportunities to lead or shape current policy.  Policy makers seem more content to create the appearance of youth participation, without giving us the power to create real change.

Although political leaders rarely offer youth the opportunity to directly shape policy, young people almost always still find ways to effectively create social change.  Throughout recent history, youth have consistently provided the leadership necessary to move our society forward in profound ways.  The Civil Rights Movement was largely successful because of the thousands of young people that risked their lives through brave acts like the Freedom Rides or Freedom Summer.  The peace and environmental movements were powered by youthful idealism, which challenged the powerful military-industrial complex and the polluting petrochemical industry.  Youth movements blocked the expansion of nuclear energy, contributed to labor and farm workers’ rights, helped topple the Berlin Wall and bring down the iron curtain, brought down apartheid, and helped bring more rights to women, indigenous peoples, and other oppressed communities.  And very recently, young people elected Barack Obama, toppled dictators in Tunisia and Egypt in the Arab Spring, occupied Wall Street to protest the extreme power exerted by “the 1%,” and stopped the KeystoneXL pipeline.

Time and time again, youth make profound change possible.  By demanding the unreasonable and being tenacious in our idealism, we create the conditions necessary to shift the status quo and challenge deeply held assumptions.  Sure, we lack the experience and seasoned policy-makers and perhaps lack the wisdom of older leaders.  But this very naiveté is also our great strength, for it gives youth the ability to ask tough questions and demand that our governance and social systems perform better.  Our fresh eyes and hopeful spirit give us the courage to innovate, to be social entrepreneurs, to create change in our own communities.  And because we are young, we think about long-term solutions to pressing societal challenges; we don’t settle for easy “quick fixes,” since we know that our generation will have to live with the consequences.

For Rio+20, youth are also moving the policy process forward and challenging leaders to commit to real change.  We “Rio Plus Twenties” (as the youth movement surrounding the Earth Summit is sometimes called) have consistently demanded concrete actions and transformative outcomes from Rio+20.  We have offered bold policy proposals, such as adopting “beyond GDP” economic metrics or creating a new position within the UN to protect the rights of future generations.  We have created innovative campaigns like My City+20, an interactive simulation of the Rio+20 negotiations that has engaged communities all over the world.  And perhaps most importantly, we don’t let borders, nationalities, or even language stop our efforts to collaborate.  During the ongoing #YouthBlast prep conference for Rio+20, nearly 2000 global youth have been working together to strategize for the negotiations, develop our personal and collective capacities as youth change agents, and plan for what comes next in the global youth movement for sustainable development after Rio+20 concludes.

While some people might think that “politics should be left to the adults,” youth are an integral part in the Rio+20 process and the broader effort to create a more peaceful and sustainable world.  Our social media campaigns can sway public opinion while our strategic on the ground actions put pressure on our leaders to act.  We provide the moral voice that moves innovative policy ideas and progressive social change forward.  The world is a better place because of youth engagement.  We know that another world is possible; because of our collective efforts, it is already beginning to emerge. 

1 comment:

  1. Aw it's that other dorky blogger I know. :) Been seeing some articles about Rio+20 in the news, been following along thinking of you.