The Importance of Young People in Social Justice
By Sachin Shiva
When Betsy Ross joined the American revolution in 1776, she was just 24 years old. Alexander Hamilton was 21 years old. Marquis de Lafayette – 18 years old. From the American Revolution over 240 years ago to protests against gun violence today, social change often starts with active, young voices. In a political environment where kids are often overlooked and seen as naive, it’s important to encourage them to get and stay involved. After all, decisions that are made today will be affecting youth for years to come.
Nancy Deutsch, director of the University of Virginia’s Youth-Nex Center, explains that “many young people engage in their communities … in ways that are not captured by traditional civic makers. And such activity is developmentally important to teens.” After all, finding a positive movement allows young people to create tangible change and develop civic habits that can last a lifetime.
A case in point: Heidi Wittwer, a student at Carthage College and a graduate of Hinsdale Central, recently attended Pride fest in Chicago. Pride fest is an annual festival that commemorates the Stonewall riots of 1969, which sparked the gay rights movement. At the festival, Heidi joined a million more in the parade before meeting local activists who champion LGTBTQ+ rights in our community every day. The third largest Pride fest in the country, it brought together many young activists who got a chance to exercise their citizenship muscles. Heidi told me that “as someone who comes from privilege – white and straight – it is important to celebrate pride … to make sure that it is ok to be different and it’s normal to be gay.” I couldn’t agree more.
We, the youth of not only America but the world, are the future and we should have a voice in the world that we inherit. Protest is a fundamental part of that idea, and it should be encouraged, not repressed, whether it be on the field, in the streets, or in a parade. If you’re a parent or a concerned citizen, encourage students to participate in local movements or bring your kids to the next protest. It can and will make a difference.