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3 Ways COVID-19 Has Changed Youth Activism
COVID-19, “stay-at-home” orders and enforced physical distancing has made us more
dependent on digital when it comes to connection and communication at both a local
and global level.
In the early months of the pandemic, marginalized communities were disproportionately
affected and the realities of a widening inequality gap were apparent. What was once
thought to be an equalizer had become the opposite.
Where COVID-19 has removed the option for young people to take to the streets to
voice their concerns about these surfacing inequalities, staying at home
(and off the streets) hasn’t translated to staying silent.
Recently, we’ve witnessed how young people are rallying around issues such
as climate change, racial injustice and voting rights, using digital as
their platform and driving civic engagement.
Civic engagement redefined
Long-lasting impact requires changes from the bottom up. Civic engagement means working
to make a difference in our communities to promote quality of life in a community,
through both political and non-political processes.
We’re seeing how, across multiple issues, young people are becoming active
participants in driving dialogues with policy-makers, on a state and federal
level. In addition, they are empowering the citizens of the communities in
which they reside, taking an active role in shaping the future we hold.
1. Racial justice
Across the US, we saw the rise of the racial justice movement through
Black Lives Matter. Hundreds of protestors came to the streets, from
New York to Nevada, acknowledging, supporting and condemning the
long-existing inequalities faced by the black community. We saw
this movement propel beyond the streets, throughout social media,
and to the polling stations.
Young activists were demanding not only awareness but also change. In this digital
space, young people started sharing resources and information for others to educate
themselves about the pressing need for racial justice. They were able to mobilize
support to inform, educate and shape citizen action. They shared links to petitions,
offered advice for safe protesting practices, created templates for emailing authorities,
listed bail funds and black-owned restaurants and businesses in need of support.
They used social media to support the various needs of this movement – and
continue to do so.
2. Climate change
The youth-led climate change has become dominant online. Every Friday, young people
lead a digital #ClimateStrike to raise awareness of important legislative initiatives
and create tangible ways for individuals to get involved in the fight against
As a leading example, to commemorate this year’s Earth Day, youth held
a 72-hour, live-streamed “digital march” with protests, speeches,
and more. This “digital march” was attended by more than 200,000
viewers. Young people are pivoting their strategies and applying
them to a digital space. We know when the streets are safe again,
they will continue their activism by marching to raise awareness
both on the streets and digitally.
3. Voting rights
Voting is another pertinent issue coming to the fore. In a Gallup poll, four
out of five (79%) young people say “the coronavirus pandemic has helped them
realize how much political leaders' decisions impact their lives”; three in
five say “they are part of a movement that will vote to express its views”.
As a result of these changing attitudes, young people are having conversations
with their families and finding ways to get politically active. They’re donating
funds to campaigns, volunteering their time to raise awareness around voting
and creating social campaigns to try to influence other people to vote and
register to vote.
It’s inspiring to see young people around the world deeply engaged in the
digital space and continuing their activism. They have played a critical
role in calling for change and transformation in society. From climate to
health to politics, young people are the most affected. The only way to make
progress is to build back better. They’re building upon existing issues and
movements, creating new alliances and driving conversations and action. This
generation is also building upon the same values and ideas of those before
them to change the status quo and find ways to enact change for a better future.