Young activists?! We often say children are our future and then we devalue what they bring to the table. We do not see them as persons fully capable of making judgments, having opinions and understanding what they want for themselves and for the world.
Children and youngsters, in my family, were not treated as persons with wants, opinions, reasonings and the right of making choices. You would sit at the “kids” table, you would not interrupt nor contradict them as this would’t be considered polite.
I was not considered polite or sometimes respectful of older people. Because I talked too much and had too many opinions for my own good. I often got in trouble at school for voicing my opinion, as it was seen as being insubordinate. Thinking back, it is quite a shame, because all that energy could have been channeled in the right way, maybe even by becoming an activist. Maybe all I needed was a push in the right direction.
Today, I do see a lot of change happening due to young activists voicing their beliefs and opinions. From small and impactful changes to bigger ones. In newspaper headlines, we see Greta, Malala and others. But for every one of them there are many more working for causes. Racial and gender equality, climate justice and LGBTQ rights among others. For example, in Portugal, many of the households that recycle have been pushed by children talking with their parents and demanding it — my sister is one of those examples.
History is full of examples of young activists making change on a large scale and also at a local level. Young people who change their homes, their schools and their neighborhoods. We talked with three people who dedicate their time to activism and started quite early.
What sparks curiosity and that tickle that doesn’t allow you to not do something?
Diogo Silva is 29 years old and he is a Climate Activist.
Diogo first started showing interest and participated in a few initiatives but felt it was not enough. After reading the book “this changes everything”, from Naomi Klein, — considered the main book on the topic — he started gaining more interest about the climatic activism movement and at the same time increasing his participation. “I understood that I really needed to dedicate on another level to this cause”, says Diogo. He ended up quitting his job and becoming an activist full time.
He is now a Lead Expert in Climate Justice at Tipping Up, “a bold space for future foresight, looking at global issues from fresh perspectives and common ground of movers and shakers for a more sustainable and diverse world.” and he is also an organizer at Climaxo, an international movement for climate justice.
Raquel Gaião Silva is 26 years old and she is a Climate Activist
Raquel graduated in Biology at Faculdade de Ciências do Porto. She did her masters in Biodiversity and Marine conservation at Algarve University and in Ireland. And is currently working at BlueBio Alliance.
Raquel gained interest in solving some of the world’s problems when she was 19 years old. She had a desire to do scuba diving and learned that they had a school in Viana do castelo. “When I started seeing the plastic in the sea I felt the need to do something about it. It was damaging what I loved so much,”, says Raquel.
When asked if she believes she is an activist, Raquel answers “for me being an activist is bringing different subjects to the discussion table. So, yes, I believe I am an activist”.
Raquel also shared that “being an activist is in everyday conversations, sharing your beliefs and understanding others opinions. For example, my childhood friends are the ones who are more different from me. We met when we were very young”.
Growing up she met more likeminded people, for example “Then at University people I met had similar interests to mine, as we were all passionate about the ocean and its beauty.”
For Raquel, the power and beauty of being an activist is in talking with people about different topics and exchanging perspectives. As it is “in this way that we can bring change to people, help them see other perspectives as they help us see their side.”
Mário Lopes, is 29 years old and he is a Youth Activist
For Mário, who is from São Tomé e Príncipe, his interest began when he was 16 years old. He saw that people around him didn’t live in the same way. “I started seeing that my parents made a big effort for me to have three meals a day, but when I was playing with my friends I noticed they only had 1 and I started understanding inequality. I loved the beach and realized it was dirty, so I wanted to do something about it.”
Mário has the perspective of São Tomé where people can be closer to power, it is sometimes more efficient to approach a Government member and explain why a project shouldn’t be approved, as for example a project that foresaw the plantation of palm trees that would have a negative impact on the environment. Now Tela Digital Media Group, of which Mário Lopes is a part, works with the government in the Campaign “Non Sa Obô” – We are Forests” sensitizing the population and alerting to the fact that forests are not inexhaustible and are in danger.
If we talk about the difference between the youth today and in previous generations and how we can bring more youth to the world problems discussion, Diogo mentions that there is still a paternalist way of treating young people: “they are too young to be involved” or “too young to hear that” and that should stop. He defends that activist associations should also be more conscious and actively include youth.
Mário believes that young people have lost the belief in the political system and the change it can bring and that should be the first step of being an activist or better to accomplish your civic duty.
Raquel’s experience says that young people are interested in solving the world’s problems. She is often invited to share her experience in schools and sees that the schools, teachers and students are eager to know more, to better understand and also take an active role in solving the world’s problems.
Activism can many times be perceived as civil disobedience. As Diogo mentions, “according to Thoreau, sometimes civil disobedience is necessary. It is what you believe is fair and just but not necessarily legal”.
As Mário puts it “to defend what is just can be ahead of its time and not be understood by many. It can be Illegal but it does not mean it is correct or just. Many times injustice is legalized.”. We can talk, for example, of the laws that made it so black people didn’t have the same access to infrastructures or treatment that white people had.
Now that the civic space is a digital space, social media has played a role in increasing the reach and visibility of several problems the world is facing, contributing to awareness. On one hand it seems that it has become easier to be part of a civic movement. We saw it with the Arab Spring, with the Black Lives Matter movement and the Youth Climate Strikes. On another hand, it is also used as an easy way to demonstrate hate without having to face “consequences” or at least exposing oneself.
What all seem to agree on is that social networks often don’t allow us to see the other perspective. As Diogo mentioned “social networks are designed to polarize. We should use them to convert those who are already close to us but are not yet taking action.”
According to Raquel, this is also dangerous for ourselves as well. “Before, we used to have television, you would watch and hear people you didn’t agree with. You had access to information that would contradict your beliefs and that was healthy”. She continues by adding: “I try to follow people I respect but have different opinions than mine. This helps keeping me grounded and understand others’ perspectives.”
The algorithm is designed that way, you like folk music and you will see more music similar to it. You are not exposed to different opinions. This will only reinforce what you already believe. It is like looking for a validation of your own ideas and not something that will open your mind.
Raquel, Diogo and Mário seem to agree that to reach and have a conversation with people who have a different perspective than ours it is best to engage in a face to face conversion and exchange of ideas and perspectives.
There’s room also for more initiatives of fact checking, says Mário. We need to fight misinformation so people don’t feed themselves with that kind of information. “Young people are used to fast food information, there is a need to adjust the way we communicate”.
I do believe that it is easier for a young person to have access to information. Access to people who are doing amazing things and demonstrating that they want change. Today, you can be a kid or a young person living in your bubble. But it is very difficult that you have not heard about Greta, about Malala or about many other people who are fighting for their beliefs.
As a mother, I also think that our generation is parenting in a different way. We aim for our children to be more aware, more involved and more active as world citizens. It scares me to see my daughter grow up and not be able to be there for her every step of the way. It does scare me more to raise a person who does not have a critical mind, who is not interested in the world and its problems. On my side, I will try hard to do my part and bring these conversations to the table.
Many thanks to Raquel, Diogo and Mário for their time and availability to contribute to this post.
If you want to know more about what is activism, check our blog post here.