How to Change the World? Just Ask These Kids
Gen Z is speaking out, and how
A young student from Varanasi recently made headlines for his speech on Mahatma Gandhi and secularism. “I want to say that there was no bigger Hindu than Gandhi. But the people of other religions didn’t fear his ‘Hei Ram’ because Gandhi was a symbol of secularism in India,” Ayush Chaturvedi, a Class XI student, said. A video of his speech uploaded to YouTube had almost 100,000 views at the time of writing.
Halfway across the world, at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, sixteen year old Greta Thunberg said that governments everywhere had betrayed her generation. “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” she said in a powerful speech. “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth - how dare you!”
Here, we introduce you to some Gen Zers who are busy changing the world.
Ayush is a Class XI student at the Central Hindu Boys School in Varanasi whose recent speech on Gandhi propelled him to internet stardom. “It is really sad that the people of Mahatma Gandhi’s own country are the ones who have read and understood him the least,” Ayush said, bravely adding, “I am standing by Mahatma Gandhi in the time of Godse.”
He reminded listeners that Gandhi was not just a person but is an ideology, and that ideology cannot be ‘murdered’.
The comments on the viral video of Ayush’s speech are indicative of this student’s courage in taking on the current political climate, where veterans fear to tread. “Just opening mouth and speaking for non-violence and and against the current ruling idealogy in UP and India is a Great achievement in itself,” reads one comment. “Well done bro... you will definitely open some people’s closed eyes,” reads another.
After a long campaign, climate activist Greta Thunberg recently held heads of government accountable for their failure to act against climate change. All of 16, Greta began her speech at the UN General Assembly on September 23 with, “This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean.”
“You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”
When it comes to the fight against environmental destruction by the rich and powerful, Greta’s generation is taking the lead. Even as Greta confronted world leaders at the UN, millions took to the streets on Friday as part of worldwide climate strikes. It was estimated that some 4 million people turned up at over 6,000 events held in more than a thousand cities across 185 countries - making the strikes one of the biggest single-day protests in history.
Friday’s strikes follow the school climate strikes in March this year, which drew an estimated 1.4 million students across the world.
Students strike school to attend a climate strike in Hyderabad in March
Following a mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in February last year, in the wake of politicians’ silence the affected students began speaking out, to demand that governments take action on gun control. Senior Emma Gonzalez powerful speech took US President Donald Trump head on.
The speech went viral, with Emma saying “We call B.S.” on the lack of action by politicians funded by the National Rifle Association, thriving in a culture of fear. Emma went on to become an outspoken activist on gun control, and helped organise the March for Our Lives demonstration in Washington, DC.
19 year old Artemisa Xakriabá also spoke at Friday’s climate march, about the impact of environmental destruction on the indigenous communities of Brazil. “We fight for our Mother Earth because the fight for Mother Earth is the mother of all other fights… We are fighting for our sacred territory. But we are being persecuted, threatened, murdered, only for protecting our own territories. We cannot accept one more drop of indigenous blood being spilled,” she said.
11 year old Ridhima Pandey is a climate activist from Uttarakhand. “I want a better future. I want to save my future. I want to save our future. I want to save the future of all the children and all people of future generations,” Ridhima says.
Ridhima is one of 16 children - aged 8 to 17 - who filed a complaint to protest lack of government action on the climate crisis at the United Nations Climate Action Summit on Monday. Greta is a co-petitioner.
Earlier, when she was just nine years old, Ridhima had filed a petition in the National Green Tribunal against the Indian government for failing to take action to tackle climate change. “My government has failed to take steps to regulate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are causing extreme climate conditions. This will impact both me and future generations,” she had said.
Sonita is a 22 year old Afghan rapper who has spoken out against the practice of forced marriages. She first gained attention through her music video for a song called “Brides for Sale”, in which she raps about daughters being sold into marriage by their families. Born in Afghanistan, her family escaped to Iran when she was about 10 years old. She discovered the music of Iranian rapper Yas and American rapper Eminem, which inspired her to write her own songs.
A documentary based on her life, and her attempt to escape a marriage her parents arranged for her, won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
Gavin Grimm is a transgender teen who recently won a court case against his Virginia school district. He had filed the case after he was banned from using the boys’ restroom at his high school. “It is such a relief to achieve this closure and vindication from the court after four years of fighting not just for myself, but for trans youth across America,” Gavin tweeted.
His victory comes amid a wave of transgender discrimination in the US, with the Trump administration rolling back Obama-era measures to support trans people at school and in the workplace.
Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow
Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow are both 22 year old student activists in Hong Kong, who lead the pro-democracy party Demosistō. With other young local residents they have become the faces of the pro-democracy movement that roiled Hong Kong first in 2014, and again earlier this year.
Last August, Joshua and Agnes were released on bail after being arrested, with Wong saying that the “political persecution” would do little to dampen the movement. “I can only tell Beijing and the Hong Kong governments that the arrests and charges will not pacify the public’s anger. It will only cause us to be firmer in our fight and not give up,” he said.