By Owen Charters
Greta Thunberg’s recent fiery address to the UN Summit on Climate Change is the most compelling five minutes of advocacy for immediate action to save the world. If you haven’t seen it, stop now and watch the entire speech.
I’m not going to browbeat you about the environment. What I want to focus on is the strength of young voices—right now, and arguably always, their voices matter more than anyone else’s.
At Clubs, we strive to listen to the voices of our youth. Under Strong Voice in our strategic plan, our call-to-action is to “reflect and amplify youth voices and share youth perspectives” and “be a timely voice with both governments and media on emerging issues that affect children and youth.” Our job is to help them find their voice, then amplify their message to policy-makers and decision-makers and influencers. The world, in other words.
At a recent national board meeting, we met with members of our National Youth Council—this is another way to ensure youth have a say in our governance. To guide our organization and our movement, we need to hear what’s important to young people, what their concerns are, what their vision is—this is how we will meet the needs and dreams of our Club members.
Greta is not alone. There is a history of powerful, vital youth voices that have had a ripple effect across generations—Malala Yousafszi is another great example. In fact, there are thousands of young voices calling for change around the globe, and many live here in Canada. Denise Balkissoon, a contributor to the Globe and Mail, listed several on Twitter:
- Autumn Peltier, a 13-year-old Anishinaabe girl from Wikwemikong First Nation (on Manitoulin Island in Ontario) who advocates for the protection of water
- The thousands of Canadian students and Indigenous youth who are inspired by Greta’s climate strike
- The sixteen youth who filed a complaint with the United Nations citing government inaction as a violation of children’s human rights
- Artemisa Xakriabá, a member of the Xakriabá people of Brazil’s Cerrado ecoregion: “Right now, the Amazon, home to millions of my relatives, is burning.”
- A list of six youth activists, compiled by CanadaHelps
- These five youth leaders, named by Level
These youth voices are powerful, and often singularly-focused. And inevitably, the response from older decision-makers is one of nodding admission—followed by a quick pivot back to business. Business meaning compromises that erode and undermine the core principles of what these youth bring to the table. Because the older you get, the more you know you must be pragmatic, balancing the demands of ‘real life’ with the ideals of urgent action.
Is this ok? Is this the way it should be? Governing—whether at the UN, or on Parliament Hill, or at the board table, or in the community—is all about compromise. But should it not also be driven by the unwavering focus of these youthful ideals? If we truly want change, don’t we have to be as equally uncompromising?
We borrow this land from our children, our grandchildren, our great grandchildren—and if we listen to Indigenous elders, we need to look at least seven generations ahead. Decisions need to include the long-view, and incorporate the perspectives of the young people that worry about the society they will inherit and are frankly concerned that short-term solutions won’t solve the problem.
We need to overcome the bias decision-makers hold against younger generations. We need to lift up the voices of our young leaders. We need to bring them to the table, to open doors, to give them platforms or help them build their own. We must heed their calls for accountability.
There are many Gretas. There are many Malalas. There are many more. They are all around us, in our Clubs and in our communities. We need to listen to them. We need to give them the biggest megaphones we can find. We must ensure their voices are heard by those in power.
We need to create a future for seven generations and beyond.