The Need for Young Voices

It’s only been a few short weeks since 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg landed in New York City after spending weeks at sea, traveling carbon-free from her native Sweden to the U.S. for this fall’s United Nations climate talks. Her welcome in the city’s North Cove Marina was one more fitting for an international pop star than a young girl who had decided to start skipping school until the world started to take notice — notice not just of her, but of the climate crisis she tirelessly called attention to. Hundreds of people gathered as her sailboat approached land. They cheered and shouted as she docked and climbed on stage, clamoring to the narrow walkway that had been cleared for her and attempting to reach forward to shake the young activist’s hand or give her a high five.

Thunberg began her protests in 2018, sitting outside the Swedish parliament to demand policy on the climate crisis, and she continued to take every Friday off from school to pursue those demands. Her protests have launched an international movement — called Fridays for Future — of students around the globe joining in her weekly absence from school to bring attention to the dangers of the global climate crisis. The movement has chapters registered in nearly 30 countries and has gained rapid media attention. Thunberg’s own strikes were inspired by the protests of the Parkland High School students surrounding gun violence and their subsequent March for Our Lives movement. In September, the Fridays for Future movement is spearheading efforts for international school walkouts during its “Week For Future” on the 20th and 27th.

The protests profoundly illustrate the chain of influence that the actions of young people can have. Gun control activists in Florida can inspire one young Swedish girl who in turn can inspire students in tiny towns and major cities across the globe — all that unites them is simply their youth and their shared concerns for our global future.

We live in a critical moment in history. The planet is burning before our eyes. People of color are incarcerated at disproportionate rates and unjustly shot by law enforcement, the very people who are portrayed as protectors. Children worry about being shot in their classrooms. It’s a world we cannot sit by and watch unfold.

It’s also a world we do not have to watch powerlessly. Thunberg, the Parkland Students and the Sunrise movement, a youth-led political movement pursuing climate justice, are all stirring testaments to the power of youth in demanding attention from adults. With that attention comes real change. Our Children’s Trust is an organization of young students suing governments across the country — it is spearheading the national Juliana case, in which 21 youth plaintiffs are suing the federal government for failing to act on early knowledge of the environmental harms of burning fossil fuels. It has proceedings in all 50 states that have led to the creation of significant environmental policy, like the case’s victory in Massachusetts, which spurred Gov. Charlie Baker to sign an executive order establishing a climate change strategy for the state. This change is possible because of the young voices staring the consequences dead in the eye.

We’ve seen this power on our own campus too. Though the memories of Amherst Uprising have graduated with the last class of seniors, its influence has persisted by intertwining itself into campus practices and policies. From it we have a new mascot, more counselors of color in the Counseling Center and focused attention on hiring faculty members of color. We still have strides to make. In a 2018 piece in The Student, opinion editor Diane Lee called for an annual remembrance of the formative event — something we have yet to see. But we have seen the impact of students raising their voices and sitting in solidarity, and we should not let that momentum die.

Last spring, on a campus wrought by tension and anger from every corner of the political spectrum, we witnessed the strength that student organizers can bring to a community by kindly and constructively demonstrating for the ideals they believe in, against a backdrop of policies and stances that vehemently threaten them.

Just this summer, Amherst updated its protest policy. We at The Student wholeheartedly encourage our peers to take full advantage of this fundamental right to demonstration. At Amherst we are situated in a place of immense privilege to understand and unpack the social problems in the world around us, and how to respond to them. We urge our peers to take advantage of the resources we have to learn and act accordingly, beyond the grounds of this very small campus. The world is watching young people and starting to follow their lead. Our voices matter. Use them.

Unsigned editorials represent the Editorial Board (assenting: 13; dissenting: 0; abstaining: 0)