Around the world, schoolchildren have taken up the mantle of demanding action on issues that are important to them in creating the society in which they want to live and raise their children.
Malala Yousafzai spent her 16th birthday addressing delegates at the UN about her fight for girls’ education – a fight that saw her shot in the face by a Taliban gunman the year before. By age 17, she had won the Nobel Peace Prize for her fearless determination to ensure all girls receive 12 years of free, safe, quality education.
Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the Parkland high school massacre, has become the face for young people fighting for gun control in the US. Her message is simple. “We are going to be the last mass shooting. We are going to change the law.’’ Tragically, mass shootings haven’t stopped but the laws are beginning to change.
Schoolchildren in many countries march to insist that we take urgent action to save the planet from the ravages of climate change. The greedy excesses of the past and present mean there are plants and animals these children will never see. It is almost certain that they will not be able to take their children snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef. Will they be able to paddle down the Murray? They are rightly furious about our lack of stewardship of their future.
We have raised our children to believe that gender and sexual orientation should not limit opportunity and that all people should enjoy the same human and legal rights. So it was unsurprising that they came out in droves to support marriage equality. Young people hurriedly enrolled to vote for the first time. Many, including Tony Abbott’s daughter Frances, spoke out in bemusement at the intolerant hypocrisy. “She’s just Aunty Chris,” Frances said of Abbott’s gay sister.
The shock of the horrific murders in Christchurch have prompted an outpouring of grief but also solidarity with the Muslim community. Our young people never knew the White Australia policy. They have grown up with a wonderfully diverse society where their friends and classmates come from many different ethnic backgrounds. They welcome refugee children into their classrooms and fiercely protect them, appealing to the government to allow them to stay, sadly too often unsuccessfully. They are less religious than their grandparents but they are not threatened by the sight of classmates and teachers wearing veils.
Anyone who lives with young people will know that they do not consider respecting other people’s identity some sort of draconian imposition curbing their free speech. They will very quickly tell you that you cannot call a woman a slut and you may not use racially derogatory terms or stereotypes and that sexuality and gender should be irrelevant.
Our children offer far more hope and inspiration than our government. To them I say
You’re the voice, try and understand it
Make the noise and make it clear,
We’re not gonna sit in silence
We’re not gonna live with fear
This time, we know we all can stand together
With the power to be powerful
Believing we can make it better
We can’t change the past but we can determine the future.
We have the chance to turn the pages over
We can write what we want to write
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