The face of youth activism has never been younger, and it’s never been as resolute. The new millennium has seen school children get vocal about their future, taking inspiration from 15-year-old Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, who started a global movement against government inaction in the face of climate change. In March this year, hundreds of schoolchildren in cities across the country skipped school to carry banners and placards demanding that the adult world – in the guise of legislature, corporates, civic and political bodies – do something to ensure that global warming is contained to below 2 degrees Centigrade in the next decade.
Dubbed variously as Fridays For Future (or #FridaysForFuture) or Climate Strike India, the protests range from a rally by a small group of teenagers and their supporters to large placard-carrying bands ranging in age from the early tweens to the late twenties. In India, one social media site counted more than 100 “strikes” in cities including Ahmedabad, Kochi, Chennai and Bhopal. In some countries, schools have actually given their students leave to run or join these protests. In India, most of the gatherings since March have been after school hours, though there have been reports of schools supporting the activity in ways that help students stay involved without having to miss lessons. And of course, like all social and political movements these days, there is a vibrant online community gathering around the idea, on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and other platforms.
It’s hard not to be moved by these young people, and it’s hard not to feel some measure of guilt and responsibility for having contributed even in the most indirect manner to the ongoing environmental crisis. But helplessness and guilt don’t take us very far. #FridaysForFuture offers a measure of hope because it opens a pathway for young people to articulate their anger but also become part of the dialogue on a very important matter. Just as Malala Yousefzai created a movement around girls’ education, Greta Thunberg has mobilized attention around global warming, forcing us to take stock of the way we live and how our actions will impact our children’s world. As educators, this offers us an opportunity to draw that conversation into our classrooms and support our students to think more and differently about how to tackle these big issues — through civic and political action, but also through science and law. One has to think in new and different ways to address these big issues, and we need to give our children the intellectual tools to help them navigate these complex times. So, even as we support their participation in adding voice to such movements as #FridaysForFuture, we need to help them think beyond protest, to become part of an imagined solution.