The Progressive - October 16, 2019
"Youth activism is clearly on the rise today, particularly in regard to gun control and climate change. Yet the stories about these involvements are hardly ever told by young people - Adults can’t fully understand the unique experiences of today’s youth, as we live through active shooter drills and grapple with climate catastrophe."
This summer, I sat in a room with 40 talented young journalists at the Asian American Journalists Association’s 2019 JCamp in Atlanta. As we introduced ourselves and described our topics of interest, a common theme emerged: the need to expand representation of young people in modern media.
I listened to my peers tell stories of censorship and other barriers that they face as young journalists. They all had stories and perspectives they were unable to share — simply due to their age.
Youth activism is clearly on the rise today, particularly in regard to gun control and climate change. Yet the stories about these involvements are hardly ever told by young people; they are delivered by adults who speak on our behalf.
While the dialogue has expanded considerably in recent years for minorities, the youth community has been largely left behind. Youth voices continue to be misrepresented and appropriated by those who do not fully understand what it means to come of age during this critical time.
Young climate activists have been victims of this misrepresentation. In the wake of her powerful speech to the United Nations, activist Greta Thunberg has been characterized by detractors as “delusional,” “laughable,” and “a pawn in a political game.” These detractors don’t understand the frustration that Thunberg and other teens experience when they realize that, while their lives depend on political action, they lack the right to vote in the interest of their own futures.
A new poll suggests that 57 percent of teens experience fear as a result of climate change, unique to a generation that anxiously awaits action. This generational injustice, in which children endure the repercussions of decisions made by previous generations, can only be solved through collaboration and equal representation of voices.
People of color have long asked what authority white individuals have to restrict their rights. Women have long asked what authority men have over their bodies. Today, young people must ask what authority adults have to arm teachers in schools, neglect action on climate change, and pass laws on education and testing.
We are rarely given the opportunity to tell our own stories and build our own vision for the future. Thus our perspectives are trivialized and necessary actions remain deprioritized.
The sociologist Ray Oldenburg has spoken of the “increasing segregation of youth from adults in American society,” which he attributed to “adult estrangement and fear of youth.” The solution is to bring the voices of young people into the conversation.
At this summer’s JCamp, students covered a variety of topics, from the environment to racial justice, through unique perspectives. With just three things — mentorship, passion and a platform — they produced writing of professional caliber that added new ideas to age-old discussions.
The fact is, adults can’t fully understand the unique experiences of today’s youth, as we live through active shooter drills and grapple with a climate headed for catastrophe — problems not of our making.
It is wrong to view young people as incompetent spokespersons of their own experience. We are the future leaders of the world, and we deserve spaces to be heard.
This column was produced for theProgressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.