Did you ever hear that expression, “Put your ear to the ground"? Can you hear the earth’s heartbeat? Yes, you may be a child (or still with a child’s heart). And you may be small, but the future of our world is in the children’s hands. So now, to the children: even though you may think that people are not listening to you, you have a voice and there are other kids who have taken steps to change their world, our world. Let’s talk about activism.
The Great Activist History
You may have heard about Martin Luther King, a black activist who wrote books, gave over two thousand speeches and emphasized civil disobedience as a way of fighting for change. But did you know he traveled far to study with Mahatma Gandhi, an Indian activist? Gandhi too, achieved much by using fasting—hunger strikes—and nonviolent civil insubordination to gain independence and to end British rule for India. King and Gandhi inspired each other.
There are so many people, of all races, gender and color, who have clawed their way through history to change what they felt was unjust and unfair. They set the standard for getting things done and each achieved great things, even creating foundations to help carry on their work. Study the history of activists and you may see your struggle in their stories.
Today’s Activist Heroines
There was a terrible shooting that stunned the whole of the United States because the victims were school children and teachers: 20 first-grade students and six educators were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. Daniel, Natalie Barden’s brother, was just 7 when he was killed. Since Natalie went to a different school, she was not hurt but she felt that both her heart and her innocence were taken away from her that day. So, when she became a sophomore in high school, she joined the Junior Newton Action Alliance, a young person’s arm of the Newtown Action Alliance, people who as a group are dedicated to promoting gun control measures. As a consequence, Natalie goes on speaking engagements with her father and has spoken to federal lawmakers and urged them to pass gun control bills, including a ban on assault weapons. Her most recent endeavor was an article for Teen Vogue and a book called, If I Don’t Make It, I Love You: Survivors in the Aftermath of School Shootings.
Time 2019 Person of the Year: Greta Thunberg
You may have seen Greta Thunberg address the United Nations about climate change. She is only 16 years old and has the singular distinction of being the youngest person to be named TIME’s Person of the Year. It started out simply enough: she skipped school. But she also created a global movement of skipping school. Other students found out and did likewise. Then she camped out in front of the Swedish Parliament—her objective was attention—because she held a sign that said: Skolstrejk för klimatet (School Strike for Climate). It has been a series of commitments to travel and spreading the word now, but she has also met with the Pope, toured and spoken in many countries, and her name is a household word as she has been celebrated in Halloween costumes, on plaques; and her image or name is attached to hundreds of items from tee shirts to books and posters (not very climate worthy unfortunately).
And while we may have all heard much about Greta, what about the next generation of leaders like: Seamus Casey, 16, who fund-raises to support military families by organizing a triathlon, or Austin Hurt, 14, who planted a bag of beans to foster a community garden, or Elijah Lee, 12, who is fighting to end child abuse by becoming an ordained minister and organizing marches?
Go With Your Gut
Did you see or hear something that shocked you or made you so mad that feelings of sadness took up residency in your head? Perhaps you listened to the news on the radio or read a story that made you want to voice your opinion, or you may have heard of a terrible problem—or something about our world that just doesn’t sit right with you?
Topics for change are as varied as:
- Animal Welfare
- Disaster Relief
- Human Rights
- Health and Fitness
- Homelessness or Hunger
- Violence and Bullying
- War and Peace
Examine your feelings; pay attention to how you are living in the world. Today’s acts of bravery and good may change tomorrow’s insight but do it right: talk to parents first.
Parents Can Set the Tone
Parents shouldn’t avoid political conversations with their children, according to Dr. Gail Saltz, associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital, Weill-Cornell School of Medicine. It may be a transformative time in an activist’s life but reaching out is also full of pitfalls and setbacks—parents need to help foster that understanding.
And children should understand they don’t have to take the whole world on and can succeed with a community or regional goal. Children should write out their desire and see if what excites them can be sustained and can be focused into a doable project. Help them understand that there will be many questions and the commitment to time and effort is great. That, once started, there will be times they want to throw it all in, to give up. And an activist must know that there will be criticism and opposition somewhere down the line. Help do-gooders realize that maybe a bake sale to raise money for a family whose house has burned down is just as valuable for its awareness and lasting inspiration as some world events. Now, go and crush it!
Collins, Dave. “As Newton students grow up, some turn to activism." Associated Press, Star Tribune. Dec. 2019
Hudson, Wade & Cheryl Willis Hudson. We Rise We Resist We Raise Our Voices. New York: Crown Books and Just Us Books, Inc., 2018. Book.
Lublin, Nancy, et a. Do Something! A Handbook for Young Activists. New York: Workman Publishing Co., 2010. Book.
Moscatello, Caitlin. See Jane Win. The Inspiring Story of the Women Changing American Politics. New York: Dutton, 2019. Book.
Stevenson, Robin. Kid Activist: True Tales of Childhood from Champion of Change. Philadelphia, Quirk Books, 2019. Book.
Yousafzai, Malala. We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories of Refugee Girls Around the World, HachetteAudio.com., 4 CDs. ISBN: 978-1-5491-7011-9.