Out of the Mouths of Babes: The Moral Authority of Youth and the Pursuit of Social Justice
by George Cassidy Payne
In a recent tweet, former President Barack Obama applauded the students of Parkland for making their voices heard. He wrote: “Young people have helped lead all our great movements. How inspiring to see it again in so many smart, fearless students standing up for their right to be safe; marching and organizing to remake the world as it should be. We’ve been waiting for you. And we’ve got your backs.”
One reason that youth have been at the forefront of social justice in America is because they are not jaded; they actually believe change can happen, and they are not afraid to take risks for peace and justice.
The children of Birmingham in 1963 fought for a future where people are not treated unequally due to the color of their skin. They refused to listen to those who said segregation would last forever.
After Kent State in 1970 the nation’s youth demanded an end to a vicious war in Southeast Asia because they believed in a world that is not dominated by greed and oppression. The students refused to listen to their parents, teachers, politicians, and others who argued that war was inevitable and necessary.
During the Occupy Wall Street movement a generation of young people stood up (and sat down) to force corporations to be accountable to the people; they actually believed in a world where 1% of the population does not control the financial destiny of the 99%.
And now a new generation of youth have risen in Florida to use their moral authority to help push for common-sense gun policies. These youth actually believe that Congress can–with the right inspiration and pressure–do the right thing.
In addition to not being jaded, perhaps the main reason youth have been so successful in fighting for social change is because the future belongs to them. They understand that if they do not take a stand now, the world they will grow up in will not be what they want.
In the words of Robert Kennedy: “Every generation inherits a world it never made; and, as it does so, it automatically becomes the trustee of that world for those who come after. In due course, each generation makes its own accounting to its children.”