The Urgency of Youth Representation, Action, and Activism in World Democracy

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Summary. Imagine a person who’s brain is only partially operational. Their thoughts, words, decisions, and behavior would likely be impeded. So it is also true when a society does not have an open balanced democratic dialog and political system which includes all people of the society regardless of age or gender. If a segment of the society is ignored, it is like having a part of the brain that is ignored. In the world community, the opinions and voices of younger people are largely ignored except when it comes to marketing products to children. The world urgently needs the inspiration of young people and children. From young people come optimism, creativity, hope, energy, and forgiveness that is urgently needed in the world today.

“We never grow up. We only learn how to act in public.” (source unknown)

Twenty-six Percent of United States Citizens Denied Representation. Children represent 26% of the United States population. They participate in school and community activities and are responsible for over $170 billion a year in purchases. Despite this they are denied the right to vote or have meaningful representation in government. [Source: Youth Activism Project]

Adult Viewpoints on Youth Involvement. Conservative commentator Dennis Prager recently stated, “when youth get involved in politics in large numbers, it is not a good thing.” What he means is that youth involvement threatens the imbalance of power that favors the adult (mostly male) dominated society and worldview which promotes and perpetuates wars, the exploitation children, and the ravaging of the environment all over the world. In reality, youth involvement is good for people and for the planet. Some people and organizations embrace and support youth involvement in global politics and issues. Youth Action Net states: “In the face of urgent global challenges – poverty, climate change, HIV/AIDS, hunger, homelessness – young people are exercising their leadership potential like never before. Their energy and idealism propel them to take risks, to look beyond obstacles, and to develop innovative solutions. Youth leaders thrive in collaborative learning environments that emphasize the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to maximize their contributions.” [Source: Youth Action Net] The organization, Global Youth Action Network states, “GYAN believes that critical issues facing the planet now demand our attention and action; and that if we are to solve these problems in our life, then we must act, and combine our efforts to guarantee a future of peace, justice and sustainability.”

Youth Viewpoints on Race. As was demonstrated by the Promises Project, youth are typically able to cooperate and enjoy friendship despite differences of culture, race, or religion. “The interesting thing about the south is that we played together, black and white, when we were seven, eight, nine, ten, but then when you got to be a teenager, all of a sudden segregation set in.” – Andrew Young, UN Ambassador from the United States (quote from PBS American Experience special about Jimmy Carter).

When Children Speak Out. When children are given an opportunity to speak, they often exhibit great wisdom. An example is the video below of Severn Suzuki, who was at the time of the video, a spokesperson for the Environmental Children’s Organization (a group of twelve and thirteen year old children addressing global issues). This video is a message she deivered at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro, 3-14 June 1992. However, the message spoken is timeless. Note: Please click the play button only and ignore all other buttons and options which might take you to other YouTube content which may be offensive.

Ability to Solve Complex Problems. In this video, a four-year-old girl solves a Rubic’s cube.

Family Model for Youth Involvement. Imagine a family sitting around the dining table or living room. Decisions about where to go eat, what movie to watch, or where to go on vacation are almost always influenced by the children in the family. Loving parents want to respect and empower their children by listening to them and taking their wishes into consideration. The world community should be no different.

Resources. Below are resources for promoting global youth empowerment.

  • Aspen Institute – Ideas Festival. According to The Aspen Idea magazine (Summer 2008, page 23), “… high school students across the country … held their own mini Ideas Festivals on topics like discrimination and genocide.” Vince Blauser, principal of Todd Beamer High School near Seattle, stated, “I was reminded that there’s more to education than the standards we teach. We are developing humanity.”
  • Christian Science Monitor, “Taste is on the Agenda for Military Meals Ready to Eat” – In this Christian Science Monitor story, a panel of children were asked to provide their opinions of military rations. [video | article]
  • CompassionateKids.com – “An international, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to helping teach children compassion towards the Earth, People, and Animals.”
  • DoSomething.org – “We believe young people have the power to make a difference. It is our aim to inspire, support and celebrate a generation of do-ers: people who see the need to do something, believe in their ability to get it done, and then take action. Our website is a community where young people learn, listen, speak, vote, volunteer, ask, and take action to make the world a better place. Currently, only 23% of this generation actively volunteers. Our hope is to create a do something generation: a world where more than 51% of young people are involved with community action.”
  • FreeChild.org – “The resources on The Freechild Project website are meant to encourage you to take action. This website offers a variety of tools for young people and adults, and provides details on the issues young people care about and the actions they are taking.”
  • GlobalKids.org – “Global Kids (GK) is committed to transforming urban youth into successful students as well as global and community leaders. Using interactive and experiential methods to educate youth about critical international and foreign policy issues, GK provides students with opportunities for civic and global engagement.”
  • Global Youth Action Network – “More than 1,000 organizations have applied for membership in GYAN. We connect over 10,000 in over 180 countries. Our mission is to facilitate youth participation and intergenerational partnership in global decision-making; support collaboration among diverse youth organizations; and provide tools, resources, and recognition for positive youth action. GYAN believes that critical issues facing the planet now demand our attention and action; and that if we are to solve these problems in our life, then we must act, and combine our efforts to guarantee a future of peace, justice and sustainability.”
  • Kiva.org – “Kiva’s mission is to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty. Kiva is the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs in the developing world.” Consider loaning money to young people through Kiva.
  • OneCountry.org – “At the UN, young girls voice concerns about grown-up issues”
  • Promises Project – When children are given an opportunity to address to create peace.
  • ShapingYouth.org – “Shaping Youth is a nonprofit concerned with media and marketing’s impact on kids. We have NO political, religious, or censorship agenda. Our focus is to shift harmful messages in a more positive direction with the help of industry insiders.”
  • YMCA – “We build strong kids, strong families, strong communities. Every day, Ys help children and youth to deepen positive values, their commitment to service and their motivation to learn.”
  • YouthAction.net – “YouthActionNet® invests in the power and promise of young social entrepreneurs around the globe. Launched in 2001 by the International Youth Foundation, YouthActionNet® strengthens, supports, and celebrates the role of young people in leading positive change in their communities. In the face of urgent global challenges – poverty, climate change, HIV/AIDS, hunger, homelessness – young people are exercising their leadership potential like never before. Their energy and idealism propel them to take risks, to look beyond obstacles, and to develop innovative solutions. Youth leaders thrive in collaborative learning environments that emphasize the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to maximize their contributions.”
  • YouthActivism.com – “This site aims to prove that MINORS can play a MAJOR ROLE. Everyone–especially teens and tweens–are invited to email or call our toll-free hotline. Also, our national nonprofit clearinghouse provides information and resources to youth workers, mentors, teachers, principals, policy makers, parents and organizations that want to support young advocates.”
  • YouthInAction.org – An organization fighting underage drinking. “Instead of targeting high school students with a message, Youth In Action looks at the whole environment that seems to condone underage drinking. From the store clerk who doesn’t check IDs, to the police officer who might pour out the beer and send teens home, to the adults who don’t mind buying beer for a kid who slips him an extra $10 — YIA teams look for community solutions instead of focusing their attention on their peers. Teams focus on laws and policies that affect people’s behavior, because that’s the best place to make changes.”
  • YouthForHumanRights.org – “Youth for Human Rights International (YHRI) is an independent non-profit corporation headquartered in Los Angeles, with the purpose to educate people in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights so they become valuable advocates for tolerance and peace. YHRI holds events and produces instructional tools to raise human rights awareness such as the award-winning music video UNITED – a street-savvy, multi-ethnic, five-minute film in 15 languages – conveying the power of human rights awareness.”
  • Wikipedia – Youth Activism
  • WireTapMag.org – “WireTap is the Webby-winning news and culture magazine by and for young people interested in social change. Here, you will learn about political issues that matter to young people, and hear from young activists, as they articulate their vision and describe their work that turns individual hopes into collective, political possibilities.”

Video. Below are selected videos from YouthForHumanRights.org

Document History. This document was first published on 20080629@2007. On 20100127we1855, outdated content was removed.

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About Gregory Johnson

Greg Johnson is a freelance writer in Iowa City and also the founder and Director of the ResourcesForLife.com website. He also manages IowaCityWebDesignArtist.com and many other topic specific websites.

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