by Jeenaev Shah
What do a climate activist, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and a Parkland school shooting survivor, have in common? They are all part of a new age of advocacy and activism. An age that they themselves have helped kick-off.
Around the world, Gen Z has changed the way we demand action in areas such as gun control, gender equality, refugee crisis, and many other causes using a simple set of tools.
Utilizing social media, the Sunrise Movement built a viral social media campaign to fight climate change, which has resulted in sitdowns with some of the most powerful politicians in US history such as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senator Dianne Feinstein. The Sunrise Movement is a youth-led movement that has gained media traction for its online advocacy, which soon turned into offline protests.
Grounded in the belief that change is necessary, Greta Thunberg protested alone – at first. She eventually kicked off the largest international demonstrations and protests in the world! Catapulted into fame, we see her address an international audience and some of the most powerful people in the world at her TED Talk, the World Economic Forum, and the COP24 and COP25 United Nations Climate Change Conferences.
Now, a survey from Irregular Labs, conducted in 7 countries on Gen Z individuals found that 75% of respondents said being politically and socially engaged is very important to their identity. 63% of them also said that they read and watched the news and social and political issues via social media, showing that social media truly has a key role in influencing activism today.
It’s clear; Generation Z wants to change the world and is already doing so -through online and offline protests. This new wave of advocates and activists are showing adaptability, which has been utilized especially during this time of lockdown with the COVID-19 pandemic. Naina Agrawal-Hardin, an activist part of the Sunrise Movement and Zero Hour, is one example. “Instead of focusing on mass mobilization in person, I’m helping put together a 72-hour live stream called Earth Day Live focused on community building and education about how the COVID-19 crisis and climate crisis intersect,” she said. The stream featured people on the front of both the Covid-19 and climate crisis, along with many famous people such as Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix, actress Alyssa Milana, politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and many more.
And Naina isn’t the only one. We The Planet, an organization that promotes a better approach to protect all life on this planet from the negative effects of climate change, too have held a digital strike. They mobilized people on Earth Day to take part in digital strikes by posting videos on social media, asking themselves and others to think of possibilities for environmental reform post-pandemic!
However, despite social media being readily accessible, the Irregular Labs survey on Gen Z also found that 55% of respondents did not know what to do, who to contact, and/or which groups to support, which were obstacles not allowing them from participating in social or political causes. So, how can the average person in Gen Z, or even anyone, get involved in a national, regional, or global issue or problem they want to be solved?
To answer that, let’s look at some of what history’s greatest advocates have said.
Mahatma Gandhi, the runner-up for Times Person of the 20th Century and described by many Indians as the Father of India, said: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”. What is this ‘service of others’ that Mahatma Gandhi was talking about? Volunteering!
Pakistani activist and history’s youngest Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai said, in her book ‘I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban’: “When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” This quote has encouraged many around the world to speak up and raise awareness about national, regional, and global issues!
How can we speak up and raise awareness? You can start an online campaign to raise awareness about something that you feel must be changed! You can create online webinars, panel discussions, online petitions, social media accounts, and more – After all, online advocacy is a way to reach anyone across the entire globe.
Finally, let us end on a quote from 1949 Nobel Prize Literature Laureate William Faulkner, who said: “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.”
Jeenaev Shah is a 13-year-old student at UWCSEA East Campus, passionate about ending plastic pollution, electronic waste, and climate change. He is part of his school’s Service Executive Committee, a group of student leaders that organizes many large-scale community service events at his school. He was also featured in Plastic-Lite’s National Day Campaign last year. In his spare time he enjoys writing, reading, and cycling.