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The kids are all right. Disengaged? Hardly. Today’s youth just might be the saviours of us all.

Hamilton Spectator

March 30, 2015

Beatrice Ekwa Ekoko


Thank you for feeding us years of lies.

Thank you for the wars you left us to fight.

Thank you for the world you ruined overnight.

But we'll be fine; yeah we'll be fine.

MKTO Lyrics

Babies are brighter these days, am I right? Two month olds are staring intently into my face and cooing. Four month olds are rolling over and crawling.

Then there are these pint-sized three and four year olds on YouTube, being sassy and precocious and saying all kinds of startling things. Eight year olds are articulate and funny and teens are "calling us out," exposing our hypocrisy so that we squirm under the glaring scrutiny of fairness. By the time they are young adults … watch out. They are snappier, faster and cognizant of the issues — their issues.

I've heard quite a bit about the sense of entitlement that is used to describe young people today: Generation Y (people born after 1980) is "selfish" and perpetually dissatisfied. Generation Z (people born after 1995) is disengaged.

But this outlook is being challenged; it doesn't seem to be reflective of what is going on around the planet.

The world is vibrating with the voices of the young who will not tolerate its destruction, and who are confronting injustices and the indifference of the wealthy and privileged.

I was surprised at the sudden swell of emotion that overcame me, reading words in a 2014 Maclean's article from Toronto business executive Don Tapscott saying that Gen Z doesn't have a choice: "My generation is leaving them with a mess. These kids are going to have to save the world literally."

I think the young know this. Yes, there is the "live fast, die young" message that prevails in popular culture, but youth grow up hearing about the global issues and I imagine it is part of their consciousness.

And while the growing concern for extremism among certain disenfranchised youth populations is legitimate, I can't help feeling a sense of optimism: young people are shaking things up, seeking to create a more equitable, safer — just better society for everyone.

For example, everywhere, youth are saying "don't funk with my future" and getting down and dirty on the streets, calling on universities, colleges, faith communities, businesses and local governments to divest from fossil fuels (even the UN recently came out in support of divesting from fossil fuel companies).

In India, young people are relentlessly protesting rape culture. In Africa, LGBTQ rights are a major focus. All over North American youth of colour are demonstrating that black lives matter. Here in Canada, First Nations young adults are taking the lead and confronting neo-colonialism with the campaigns such as Idle no More.

I was at a symposium in Guelph recently, on pollinator health that was attended by a gaggle of youth from Ontario Nature Youth Council. They were there because they had, on their own, initiated a program to advocate for bee health and ran a campaign to petition the government to take action against the misuse of neonicotinoids that is linked to declining bee populations.

In Hamilton, we have youth who are advocating for same sex washrooms, antibullying support and demanding anti-racism education and police accountability.

Our city is home to young professionals and socially minded entrepreneurs who are part of the sustainability movement.

We have Mac students who are "coding for good." DeltaHacks just ran a "hackathon," encouraging students to use their programming knowledge and make something that has a positive impact on the world. One student told me she decided to get involved in creating an application because she felt she could be, "doing so much more."

CBC's "The Current" recently ran a special program called "Introducing Gen Z: Exploring the Lives of Young People," the conversation being about what defines youth today — how they see themselves. The youth on the program talked about how, because of the democratizing engagement effect of technology, people are educated on issues at a younger age and are more sophisticated, and they share and spread news quickly.

In this light, activism looks different from the past.

"What we are seeing in youth activism is a greater comfort with connecting the issues — so issues campaign rather than systems change: it's a recognition that we need to address power and privilege inside and out," environmental activist Tzeporah Berman said in the interview — and that takes on many different forms.

"The Internet is the new battleground for fighting oppression," my teen insists. Like many young people, she utilizes the social medium of Tumblr as a platform to promote and explore social justice issues. "Social justice Internet culture" is helping to shape contemporary discourse and progressively influencing popular culture.

The role of the young is indeed to expose, challenge and improve. They are supposed to do this; we need to lend a hand.

Beatrice Ekwa Ekoko is a freelance writer based in Hamilton. Bekoko.ca

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