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Child activism is an industry, leave those kids alone

I am convinced that activism is a lobbying exercise, yet try to take it seriously because I am all for making a difference when it comes to personal attitudes.

By Allan Jacob

Published: Sat 21 Sep 2019, 7:00 PM

Last updated: Sat 21 Sep 2019, 9:50 PM

Activism is not up my alley. I am streets behind and view mass protests and demonstrations with suspicion as they often fan needless dissent and target the establishment for no apparent reason.
I am convinced that activism is a lobbying exercise, yet try to take it seriously because I am all for making a difference when it comes to personal attitudes. That knowledge often makes me smug and comfortable - I am a survivor and believer, not a driver of change, which can be construed as a measure of my contentment.
I also like the sound of 'reform' and 'regulation'. They hold me in thrall for they strike out at the status quo while resisting change at the core. In the end, they are merely a play on words in my bid to strike a balance. There's always a mascot and an issue to prop up mass movements, which is fine, but I am concerned that the people are getting younger as they hit the streets.
I view this phenomenon as activist abuse or exploitation - putting children and impressionable teenagers on the stage and on roads to be agents of change while adults are cowardly or lazy to tread there for fear of getting caught by the authorities, particularly in authoritarian regimes where despots brook no dissent. Imagine protests breaking out on the streets of Pyongyang, people!
However, recent uprisings in Sudan and Algeria had mass impact, and there was participation from all sections of society.  People's zeal to tackle real and current local problems were paramount - food scarcity, rising prices, poverty, an equitable future, democracy, and civil rights. The masses were clear about their objectives though the world media did not cover them with the same vigour and commitment like they have covered Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who is now the face of climate change protests all over the world.
But the more I read and watch demonstrations fanned by teenagers like Greta, the more nervous or paranoid I am about the future of our children. It seems adults have eschewed responsibility and outsourced these movements to teenagers.
We as adults are abusing our positions and allowing them to spearhead our causes. They fight our battles. No kidding. We are reluctant to hit the streets with force to garner the attention of our leaders, so we allow them to do it. Our fears are transformed into courage when we let our children lead the way. We piggyback on their early awareness of issues and gloat about their achievements in a young and niche activist space.
I remember a parent who was bent on pushing his daughter's green credentials. He wanted a build-up of her work on the ground like planting trees, speaking at conferences, and lobbying for climate awareness. He insisted the media had a role to play in achieving her dreams, and even hired a PR agency in his bid to make her an environment ambassador. Standing out from the clutter of young climate activists was important. The mom would join in badgering me for coverage in the paper. I wonder where that kid is these days, but there are many like her doing their parents' bidding for the climate and other noble causes. The weather is the big deal now, more so after US President Donald J. Trump pulled the country out of the Paris climate pact in 2017, thereby making it impotent and hard to enforce.
There are concerns that we humans in our infinite wisdom will not be able to prevent temperatures rising above the two-degrees limit set by the United Nations.
Greta's rise in this context has been nothing short of phenomenal. From a small town in Sweden to crossing the Atlantic and global acclaim, she hasn't done it on her own.
There's a team of professionals behind her and we love and laud the striking mass spectacle that is unfolding before our eyes. The 16-year-old has been busy chiding leaders for their inaction on the climate crisis and they are happy posing with her for their share of the media spotlight. Friday's global protests drew four million people in 163 countries, most of them youth and teenagers.
It's untrue that governments are turning a blind eye to climate change and a sustainable future, but this flood of child activists on the scene to control the weather makes me worry about the state of global affairs in general.
These kids also promote other causes, from education to safe drinking water and civil rights. Malala Yousafzai even went on to win the Nobel Prize for her campaign for girls' education. Bana Al Abed is fighting for refugee rights, and she's just 8. Other youngsters like Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg are leading activists for gun control. Mari Copeny, now 11-year-old, fought for clean water for her community in the US. There are more.
The trouble is child activism has become an industry, with a PR spin and accompanying benefits, where teenagers become stars even before they make sense of their surroundings. They are celebrities of our time and are living their parents' dream. These kids have become our foot soldiers for larger campaigns in the media space as we place their innocence and child-like awareness above adult experience. We exploit them. We are to blame. That's the truth. The question is whether we can we handle it.

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