Gen Z: How Young People Are Changing Activism (2023)

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Cortesia de Nadine Khaouli


Gen Z: How Young People Are Changing Activism (1)

By Megan CarnegieAugust 8, 2022

Technology has given youth a stronger voice than ever. Gen Z is angry and not afraid to speak up.

(Video) Greta and eight young activists reveal how the climate crisis is shaping their lives | UNICEF


Elijah McKenzie-Jackson was raised as a vegetarian for animal welfare reasons. But at age 10 he began to investigate further and discovered the climate impact and greenhouse gas emissions associated with raising livestock and manufacturing animal products. “At the age of 14, I made the transition to veganism, which helped me understand why it can't just be a personal change in the fight against the climate crisis,” he says.

She knew that cutting out meat and animal products wasn't enough on its own, so at age 15, McKenzie-Jackson expanded her activism efforts. She joined XR Youth, the UK-based independent wing of Extinction Rebellion, and since 2019 she has organized and participated in climate strikes with the UK Student Climate Network and the international movement Fridays for the Future. Now 18, McKenzie-Jackson has taken a year off from her studies, after which she will move to New York City to study sociology and fine arts.

McKenzie-Jackson's experience of beginning a life in activism at a young age, and going all-in, is an increasingly common story among Gen Zers. Born between 1995 and 2010, this generation has already faced immense challenges as they reach adulthood: climate change, inequality and social unrest, political division, economic hardship, and more. It has already mobilized many of these young people into action. And while they're far from the first generation to speak out about injustice and other social ills, technology has made Gen Z activism look different from previous movements, which means their influence can be too.

"I am driven by the fact that I have no other choice"

Activism has always been synonymous with youth culture. InMay 1968 protests in France, mianti vietnam war protestsmicivil rights movementin the United States, forthe world movement occupymithe arab springSince the late 2000s, youth have a track record of driving social change. Generation Z is the latest chapter in the decades-old encyclopedia of young activists; however, this group seems to communicate, mobilize, and rally support in a way that sets them apart from previous generations.

Raised against the backdrop of the 2008 Great Recession, Generation Z experienced a unique set of obstacles. Added to unprecedented societal upheaval and division, their path to adulthood was complicated by the pandemic, during which they saw thegrowing impact of global inequality. Climate change is front and center, threatening the future of the planet you will live on. And as the global economy enters a period of impending instability, Generation Z is increasinglybearing the weight.

“The sense of crisis is now amplified,” says Jessica Taft, an associate professor of Latin American and Latino studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, whose work focuses on the political lives of children and youth in the Americas. “The scope of the climate crisis, the deep inequalities, the creeping global fascism: these are all existential threats.” Sure, there have been countless dangers in the past, but the power and global nature of these historic moments are shaping young people's worldviews and the role activism plays in their lives, she says.

Gen Z: How Young People Are Changing Activism (2)

Elijah McKenzie-Jackson began his activist journey at age 10 (Credit: Pamela Elizarraras Acitores)

What fuels Gen Z anxiety is the fact that they are exposed to the news in a different way than their parents or grandparents of the same age; young people are consuming content on social topics and events almost constantly. With just a smartphone, people can access a 24/7 buffet of reports across social networking sites, search engines, news sites, and television. Social networks are quickly overtaking traditional news channels among young people. Instagram, TikTok and YouTube are now the top three news sources most used by British teenagers, according to the broadcasting regulator.ofcom, while the older generations, who grew up consuming news in the press, radio and televisioncontinue to favor these traditional modes.

With technology-enabled devices providing constant access to news and user-generated content, escaping is no easy feat. Young people can't get away from the discourse, so it's no surprise that many Gen Z digital natives are encouraged to act on their social grievances. They are mobilizing out of fear and need. As a 22-year-old American gun control activist and survivor of the Parkland, Florida mass shootingdavid hogghe tweeted: “I am not moved by hope. I am driven by the fact that I have no other choice.

More activists, starting younger

Constant exposure to grim realities has prepared Gen Z to proactively face difficulties.

Global data from research and public relations firm Edelman shows70% of Generation Zparticipate in a social or political cause. And while not all of the 10,000 people surveyed said they consider themselves to be full-fledged activists, they are still highly involved socially, championing the causes they believe in through the way they spend and earn. they are thegeneration most likely to boycotta product, company, country or state because of a political, social or environmental stance, which also extends to the way they choose employers. Fairone in fiveI would work for a failing companyto share your values.

Much of their activism is motivated by frustration: some surveys show that they are generally more disillusioned with the government and other forms of political participation than their elders. EITHERUniversity of Cambridgehas been collecting global data since 1973 and found that young people's faith in democratic politics is now lower than in any other age group. Among 18-34 year olds (a mix of Gen Z and Millennials), satisfaction with democracy is declining at its fastest rate. For young people in developed democracies, economic exclusion is the factor that most contributes to the decline of their faith in institutions. Struggling with higher debt, lower chances of homeownership, and greater challenges in raising a family, Gen Z's discontent only grows.

The pandemic certainly hasn't helped. According to research from the London School of Economics and Political Science, people experiencing an epidemic, such as Covid-19, the Zika virus, Ebola or Sars, are between the ages of 18 and 25.prone to harboring negative attitudestowards the government and elections long after the epidemic ended.

(Video) Gen Z and Political Activism

Climate change activism used to deal with abstract scientific concepts, but…we can feel the weather accelerating and this increases the sense of an impending apocalypse – Top Sinha

“While young people are moving away from formal politics, not surprisingly given their lack of confidence, they are also tending to increase their participation in the democratic process through alternative and more direct means,” explains Orkun Saka, co-author from the book. article, Research Visiting Professor at the LSE and Assistant Professor of Economics at the City, University of London. This includes activities such as participating in rallies, protests, boycotts, and signing petitions. Saka believes that the silver lining of the post-epidemic decline in confidence may make young people feel like they would like to take matters into their own hands. “They can become more critical of their political leaders and governments, which is not a bad consequence in itself,” says Saka.

Particularly notable is the age at which Gen Z activism begins, often earlier than previous generations. Greta Thunberg launched her first protest outside the Swedish parliament at age 15, which Subir Sinha, a professor of development theory and policy at SOAS University London, believes set off a domino effect, where young people had a role model who was angry and rightly so. so. “She…didn't look packed,” he says. "It's post-celebrity activism, where your normalcy and lack of glamor are part of your appeal."

Many young activists followed in his footsteps and gained worldwide recognition for speaking out on climate change issues from the age of eight, such asLicypriya Kangujamfrom Manipur in India. At 10 years old, she has just run a successful campaign to end all plastic pollution.clear the area around the Taj Mahal.

“The idea that there might not be a future, or if there is, it might be greatly diminished, weighs heavily on their minds,” Sinha says. “Climate change activism used to grapple with abstract scientific concepts, but with record-breaking annual wildfires, floods, droughts and heat, plus news and social media coverage, we can feel the weather picking up speed.” and that adds to the feeling of the apocalypse. . imminent".

That is why so many young people, who see climate change as an existential threat to their lives, so openly participate in movements and demand a seat at the global negotiating table.

An audience at your fingertips

Gen Z activists and their older peers are united in their concern for the same issues—climate destruction, gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights—but their voices seem louder and more urgent because they have more ways to seek inspiration, spread information, and mobilize. While older generations set the precedent for grassroots activism and self-expression, Generation Z has taken this activity where they feel most comfortable: digital spaces.

Gen Z: How Young People Are Changing Activism (3)

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, 19, is one of the most recognizable voices of Generation Z, who experts say have inspired other young people to take action (Credit: Alamy)

(Video) Gen Z fighting for climate change

In its most basic form, digital spaces allow Gen Zers to develop their civic identities and express political positions in creative ways, from noting their sexual orientation in their Instagram bio to joining groups that align with their interests on the platform. Discord chat. The online world gives them a place to claim agency that they might not get in traditional civic spaces, like schools, universities, or workplaces. A 2020 study ofUK's safest internet hubshowed that 34% of kids ages 8-17 say the internet has inspired them to take action on a cause and 43% say it makes them feel like their voices matter.

The nature of this relationship facilitates the exercise of civic identity and participation, offline and online, in movements for social change. From the comfort of a bedroom, someone can broadcast a message from a social media account or create a new platform, without having to wait for a journalist to find out or for a TV show to go into prime time. While flyers, phone campaigns, word of mouth, and prospecting may have been the catalyst for getting a movement across decades earlier, now Gen Z can take advantage of all of that and more. TikTok videos, hashtag movements like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, podcasts and 'hacktivismthey have expanded the ways in which young people can speak up and be heard.

“There are newer mechanisms by which they are mobilizing collectively, and because of the pandemic, there is more emphasis on organizing remotely, which may not require people to physically come together in large numbers,” Sinha says. He believes that what distinguishes Generation Z from previous generations is the proliferation of technology in the social and political activity of young people and the intuitive way in which they use it. One minute they're reposting cat memes, the next they're flooding Starbucks withfake job applicationsin a position against the company's decision to fire workers who tried to unionize.

“They have a much better understanding of certain media and know how to make things go viral in a certain way, unlike us who were not born into the culture of computers and cell phones,” Sinha says. Instead, she remembers working with fishermen in the 1990s, who were demonstrating against the corporate trawling sector and their machine fishing. Local communications were to be written in the form of a letter, typed, and then faxed to all international branches of the movement.

Today such a movement would look dramatically different, he argues, bigger and faster, as the internet and smartphones have now democratized and accelerated the path to power and access to a voice as an activist. Jackson-McKenzie believes that social media gives people access to their own press tool. “It allows us to tell our own stories, which is why I think Generation Z has been successful in so many advocacy efforts,” she says. “We are totally interconnected to connect all over the world.”

With social media opening the window to all forms of activism, Generation Z has the ability to raise awareness about the issues they care about, even if the road to concrete change is still long. Still rooted in local struggles and realities, contemporary social movements are increasingly “global”, operating globally and locally, with online and offline networks overlapping. Many of the recent youth-led street protests have been organized online, with Twitter, TikTok and Instagram serving as hubs for information and networks.

OfArab Springforblack lives matter, youth-led movements are gaining ground through digital media and resulting in large-scale transnational protests. A notable example was the departure of primary and higher school children to demand action on climate change in March 2019. The 1.4 million peopleStrike for school climate– the largest of its kind in history – attracted worldwide attention throughdocumenting local protests on Twitter, with this 'glocal' post expanding its reach and encouraging others to curate their own versions. The strikes clearly had an effect, as concerns about the climate crisispeaked in the same month as the strikes.

Gen Z: How Young People Are Changing Activism (4)

In Lebanon, Nadine Khaouli uses Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn to document and expand her activist work (Credit: Courtesy of Nadine Khaouli)

activism as identity

With technology collapsing Gen Z personal identities into their activism, that sense of identity may well follow them throughout their lives, having multiple impacts and appearing in all sorts of spheres.

Social networks have mixed the personal and professional life of Generation Z, without offering a delimitation between who they are and how they represent it. Nadine Khaouli has been active in the volunteer and social action space since she was 13 years old and now runs a humanitarian non-profit organization Kafe Be Kafak (which means 'hand in hand' in Arabic) alongside her full-time job as a delegate. youth with the United Nations Development Program. On her personal social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn), she documents and expands on her own insights and progress, as well as posts on volunteering and job opportunities.

“I enjoy showing my followers how we are tackling the hustle and bustle of everyday life in Lebanon – it's about using my personal journey and story to inspire the work I do,” says Khaouli. “I don't feel pressure to confuse personal and professional life because my activism is very much in line with my mission to end poverty in Lebanon.”

These blurred boundaries also seem natural to McKenzie-Jackson, since he doesn't see his activism as a profession. “It's more of a community and family than a workplace, which is probably why so many of us are involved in movements,” he says. "It's about doing impactful work in a way that makes us feel fulfilled."

He believes that finding friends and partners through networks of activists and inextricably linking their identities to their beliefs means that those already engaged are unlikely to end their involvement anytime soon. This will simply carry over into whatever new spheres they find, whether it be in the workplace or in more activist circles. Involved in several moves, Jackson-McKenzie doesn't see himself backing down. “Once you're involved, you can't stop because you learn and understand more, and it becomes much more serious and scary,” he says.

(Video) How Young Climate Crisis Activists Changed the World | NowThis

A 2020 study by the UK's Safer Internet Center showed that 34% of 8-17 year olds say the internet has inspired them to take action for a cause and 43% say it makes them feel their voices matter .

Forced to grow up rapidly by a series of societal crises, Generation Z always has the chance to overcome their activist tendencies as they take on more responsibility in their lives. However, research on the generation of the 1960s shows that commitment to the same types of political beliefs remains constant over time. “The narrative that someone becomes more conservative as they get older is not supported by evidence,” says Taft. “People who have been activists, organizing and participating in these collective spaces, remain committed to making social change happen in many ways, while those whose participation wanes tend not to be especially committed. I don't see why this wouldn't apply to Generation Z."

Investing in long-term activism and organizing their lives around their commitments to various movements rather than the other way around, this generation is forging ahead with their demands, as long as older generations are willing to listen. “There has always been a problem that older people see youth movements as too idealistic,” says Sinha. "Any radical or progressive movement with ambitions to survive must make room for young people and their ideas about what needs to change and how it needs to be done."

That said, activism living on the same platforms that older generations use for work and play may be narrowing the ideological divide between them. Similarly, research shows that Gen Z's passion for change is revitalizing older generations as well, with a ripple effect that's hard to ignore. Worldwide,52% of peopleof all generations believes that teens and college students influence how we create change. It's affecting older generations, too: 35% of those 56+ agree this cohort influences how they support causes they care about, jumping to 50% among those 42-55.

The summer of 2022 has already highlighted a host of new and well-worn issues that will remain highly contentious well into the future. And while today's young activists face many of the same obstacles as before, they have a completely different set of tools at their fingertips that gives them the strongest voices of every generation in history. With a fresher take on all the ways we go wrong in life, they're angry and not afraid to speak up.

“After the pandemic, the challenge is to remobilize people and empower them to act; often people feel down about what's going on,” says McKenzie-Jackson. “Activism is not just actions or social media, it always starts with a passion, and people need to be in touch with that first: everyone has a voice that can turn society upside down, it's just feeling empowered enough to use it. . .”



1. Generation Z is Changing the World! | James Thompson | TEDxKids@SMU
(TEDx Talks)
2. Gen Z activist on the "political revolution" to fight climate change
(CBS News)
3. How Gen Z fuels Black Lives Matter activism
(Los Angeles Times)
4. Not backing down: Gen Z activists discuss how to push for change
(PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs)
5. Gen Z on how to save the world
6. "A generation of we": How Gen Z is revolutionizing activism
(CBS News)


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