By Benjamin Morgan and Skylar Cole
Generation Z is preparing to enter the adult world en masse, and the recent wave of student activism shows that many members of this group aren’t willing to sit back and wait for change. Across the world, teenagers have gone on strike in opposition to the injustice they see in the world around them. The activism of this group differs greatly from that of past generations due in large part to the tools that many teens and other young adults have grown up with and have ingrained into their collective culture. Handheld computers, instant access to social media users around the world, and the greatest database of human knowledge ever accessible have all contributed to the strength and scope of Gen Z taking a stand.
One of the first and most covered American events in the new era of student protests was the response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Following the deaths of 17 people in this school shooting, thousands of students walked out across the nation to protest gun violence and support gun control. After the national walkout in March of 2018, the New York Times reported that “the emergence of people not even old enough to drive as a political force has been particularly arresting, unsettling a … debate that had seemed impervious to other factors.”
Many Bio-Med students participated in this act, constituting the first real concerted effort of student activism in our school.
“[The shooting and walkout] made me want to do more, but I didn’t know what else to do… Not all of us can be Greta.” said Eryka Lund, a participant in the walkout.
At the time of the writing of this article, students in Hong Kong are continuing school strikes that have lasted almost two months in the face of continuing police brutality and violence against the people.
The student-led components are a part of that city’s opposition to increased rule by mainland China, most notably a now-retracted extradition treaty. These students are standing against increased aggression by the Chinese military and local police and defying the recent mask ban, a measure instituted by Hong Kong’s government to ban the wearing of face masks that obscure identity during demonstrations, protecting their right to protest with anonymity. Protesters have managed to send hundreds of videos, photographs, and messages to the outside world, piercing the web of censorship that China has attempted to cast over them to stifle their voices. As the violence has intensified, students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong built barricades on the University grounds and fought the police as government forces attempted to regain the campus. Though they face arrest, government-sanctioned beatings, and even death, the students are willing to accept any fate if it means a future of freedom and democracy for their city.
Perhaps the most striking recent example of global student solidarity came in late September of 2019 with the Global Climate Strike. While working people around the world participated in the strike, the event was inspired and organized by a group of Swedish teenagers, most notably Greta Thunberg.
August 20, 2018, was the first day that fifteen-year-old Thunberg sat outside the Swedish Riksdag, the national legislature and decision-making body, with her now-famous sign reading, “Skolstrejk för klimatet,” which in English reads “school strike for the climate.” From that day until the Swedish general election on September 9, Thunberg sat outside the Riksdag during school hours every weekday in protest. Her demands came after Sweden experienced the hottest summer in 262 years, in which the country was overtaken by wildfires and heatwaves.
Between September 20-27, 2019, she helped to orchestrate the Global Climate Strike. Independent sources estimated that over six million students voided going to school on the final day in solidarity with Thunberg.
Thunberg’s action caught international attention, in part due to her blunt language about the climate crisis. She continues to call out world leaders and the public to take action and address climate change. For her actions, Thunberg has received and been nominated for many awards including being named one of the 100 most influential people of 2019 by Time magazine and being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.