Essay by Rhea Ebanks-Simpson from the UK aged 22 who is a student at Goldsmiths University.
Young people leading peace
In June 2020, outrage over racism and police brutality erupted worldwide; suddenly, the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight for racial equity were propelled to the forefront of the youth’s attention. At this time, the youth worldwide recognised that the dominant culture favoured those existing in privileged positions. The disadvantages that subjugated groups face globally became apparent for many. The echoes of the civil rights movements of old fell on young ears as the youth bore witness to disparities in housing, access to education and health during a new wave of social justice struggles. To quote the late Martin Luther King Jr., “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” In turn, 2020 inspired a new generation to fight against systems that support injustice, from protecting the lives of refugees to fighting for climate justice. A sleeping giant was awoken as a new generation began its demand for peace.
In the days following the 2020 protests, young people have been extremely passionate and determined in their efforts. Youths worldwide have endlessly galvanised support through text messages, social media, and video chats. They organise protests, leading hundreds as they march through the metropole. In the rain and beating sun, energised youths of a diverse cohort have been representatives of demonstrations demanding peace in Palestine, climate action, and social justice. 2020 may have been the first time many had fought for peace, but do not be mistaken; 2021 certainly shows that it would not be the last. New concerns emerge on the 2021 horizon yet to be tackled; news reports document wealth inequality and a precarious position for women in Afghanistan. In turn, the youth have taken to social media to spread the news of injustice and organise student-led protests. This new age of activism finds a platform on social media, where the youth disseminate resources to educate others about the fight for equity and peace. They share petitions, create email templates to pressure those in power, and document cases of injustice. Thanks to my generation, activism has adopted a transformative and localised manner in which everyone can do their part.
The rich history of the Civil rights Movement rests at the heart of these fights, which youth leaders also fuelled. The 1960 Greensboro sit-ins that sparked the landmark decision to integrate mixed-race schools demonstrated the strength of youth leadership (Rim, 2020). Clearly, student-led movements accelerated our most celebrated moments of peace. Like their forebearers, the youth of 2021 are incentivised by genuine peace to developing. The youth’s own experiences with social injustice and conflict have primarily shaped their demands, as seen by the student-led protests in 2021 demanding climate justice in response to an overwhelming, bubbling urgency to act. Youths are rightfully paying attention to politics, encouraging them to be a part of the change. One student activist in London expressed that demands for peace are “being led by someone young for the first time” (Murray and Mohdin, 2020). Fundamentally, demanding social justice has become a core tenet of today’s youth’s collective identity, marking the current climate as an era-defining chapter that will determine how the world looks and operates in the near future.
At the heart of this chapter is the need to promote community; many youths cite community as their main incentive for demanding peace (Ibid, 2020) by giving a voice to those subjugated without speaking for them. The youth are encouraged by a vision of basic needs being met worldwide, refusing to overlook the Millennium Development Goals. As one student activist told Elle (2020), “I want to be a soldier of the people,” fighting for everyone across the broader international community as an agent for change. Fundamentally, the youth refuse to be disenfranchised by the habitual “othering” that often occurs during peace resolution discussions. Instead, they are situating themselves as positive actors in the peacebuilding process and social justice more generally.
While youths are typically ignored in discourses surrounding peace, they choose to insert themselves into these discussions with little room to overlook their presence. Take Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg: youth peacebuilders that refuse to be cast as anything other than experts due to their lived experiences. Youths are now ignoring the opinion that they are the protagonists for radical demands. Instead, they are rational leaders in peacebuilding and refuse to be both infantilised and perceived as vulnerable actors.
In order to continue this work and maintain the peacebuilding momentum, the youth must recognise there is still work to do. They need to build funds and fund-raise for activism to break the financial barriers that ordinarily prohibit them from participating in peacebuilding processes. The fundraisers could include opportunities to showcase students’ ideas of anti-oppressive peacebuilding. Similarly, the youth must organise inclusive community-led training sessions for other young activists to disseminate knowledge that helps to establish peace in post-conflict settings. These sessions could generate informal critical dialogue and help to educate others by enhancing their skills. Therefore, remembering Nelson Mandela’s (2011) argument that “The challenge for each one of you is to take up these ideals of tolerance and respect for others and put them to practical use in your schools, your communities and throughout your lives.” These devices would contribute to the youth being seen as leaders for now rather than leaders of the future.
Feller, M. (2020). These Teen Black Lives Matter Activists Are Writing the Future. ELLE. https://www.elle.com/culture/career-politics/a33329403/black-lives-matter-teen-activists/
Murray, J., & Mohdin, A. (2020). ‘It was empowering’: teen BLM activists on learning the ropes at school climate strikes. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/11/school-strikes-were-empowering-teen-black-lives-matter-activists-on-their-environmental-awakening-extinction-rebellion
Mandela N. (2011). “Nelson Mandela By Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations”. Pan Macmillan.
Rim, C. (2020). How Student Activism Shaped The Black Lives Matter Movement. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/christopherrim/2020/06/04/how-student-activism-shaped-the-black-lives-matter-movement/?sh=466b76264414