Are we entering a new era of global revolution?
Today’s youth has something that historical rights movements didn’t – they’re connected, like never before
A-Level students take to the streets in London, calling for the resignation of the education secretary over the government’s handling of exam results. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Horizons of citizens in mass demonstrations raising placards demanding rights, justice and equality now form an essential part of the social and political fabric of the modern era.
We’ve seen ordinary everyday people take to the streets in London, Washington DC, Moscow, Minsk and beyond. Each protest differs in detail, with unique voices calling for reform or change in their own respective way. However, among other similarities there’s undoubtedly one common factor – youth.
Many of those who fall within today’s younger generational demographics share the same economic and societal grievances, binding them in a mutual desire for change. Are we entering a new era of global revolution?
The 21st century has seen young people engaged on a whole new level thanks in part to the advent of social media
In 1964, during the civil rights movement, activist Fannie Lou Hamer spoke for millions when she declared she was “sick and tired of being sick and tired”. The young people of today are the newest link in a decades-long chain of youth activists at the forefront of social change across the globe.
There’s a storied history of civil rights movements and demonstrations often spurred by injustice and government inaction which, in turn, see newfound resolve to rectify systemic abuses and mistreatments, only to eventually dwindle back into a whisper once other pressing issues take the forefront. But today’s youth has something that historical rights movements didn’t – they’re connected, like never before.
The 21st century has seen young people engaged on a whole new level thanks in part to the advent of social media and, with it, widespread ease of connectivity and the resulting evolution of a more global sense of standards. People expect more – more equality, more justice, more rights. Social media has cast a light on parts of the world – and within our own societies– that previously might have remained unseen.
The younger generation are surely entitled to demand more from a segment of the population who they feel are old enough to know better
A myriad of governments choose to airbrush away some of their darker, less proud moments throughout their histories, erasing unpleasant but essentially important truths from what is taught in their education systems. But this revisionism can be circumvented and undone in an instant by virtually anyone with a cursory internet search– once the government in question hasn’t also taken the extra precaution of limiting their citizens’ access to the internet.
Many of today’s young people have suffered the consequences of the 2008 financial crash, and those who follow will face similar struggles on the back of the yet-unknown economic impact of Covid-19. Recession, stagnant or falling living standards, and austerity have shaped the life experiences of many. Several current protests are rooted in shared grievances concerning economic inequality.
This global embodiment of unfulfilled youthful aspiration is propagating a resurgence of predominantly youth-led resistance. In August alone, we’ve seen mass demonstrations in Hong Kong, 10,000 students reigniting pro-democracy protests in Thailand, A-Level students on the streets in London and the eruption of widespread protests across Belarus.
This resurgence of protests has highlighted a growing rift between the values of older and younger generations. The movement which dismantled the Sudanese government, for example, was largely divided down generational lines. Similarly, in the UK, young people came out in their thousands to protest against Brexit in a a youth-led collective aptly titled Our Future Our Choice.
The subsequent divisive referendum was split between younger and older voters, seeing 71 per cent of citizens under the age of 25 vote to remain in the EU, while 64 per cent of those over the age of 65 voted to leave.
The younger generation are surely entitled to demand more from a segment of the population who they feel are old enough to know better. However, it’s not difficult to imagine that the older generations might very well think the youth of today are simply too young to understand.
Another common factor is the increased willingness of undemocratic regimes to use force in an effort to crush any threats to their power. From the US to Hong Kong and Belarus, the response from the authorities has often been fierce.
There will always be those in positions of power who – threatened by change and democracy – will seek to erode the advancements they effect and, if permitted, would endeavour to roll back on decades of progress in an effort to retain their control.
When considering the risks inherent in opposing seemingly insurmountable opposition, it’s of little surprise that in many instances, the trying and exhaustive responsibility of combating corruption often falls to ordinary people. That should bring pause to those who try to halt reform – the corrupt may be powerful, but the youth are fearless.
Emma DeSouza is a citizens rights campaigner and journalist.