How young people can be a radical force in politics

1 Mar 2018


In the week after the Parkland High School shooting, the survivors of the tragedy have formed a political movement (#neveragain), forced a CNN Town Hall, organised ‘March for our Lives’ and a school walkout — both of which are planned for next month. The students have been derided by some on the right who have accused them of being ‘crisis actors’, while others have dismissed their views on account of their age. However, this is far from the first time in history that young people have been pioneers of change.


One of the most famous examples of a movement that has been shaped by young people is the Civil Rights Movement. In the Summer of 1957, nine African American students enrolled to Little Rock High before being denied entrance to the segregated school on the request of Alabama Governor Orval Faubus. It would only be after the intervention of President Eisenhower that the Little Rock Nine would be allowed into the school, albeit with heavy security. And this led to the Cooper v. Aaron ruling (which stated that states MUST enforce the courts' decisions even if the states disagree with them), leaving no doubt as to the importance of Little Rock (and therefore young people) in the fight for civil rights.


However, while the Civil Rights campaign is one of the most high profile movements involving young people, it is far from the only example. One needs to look no further than the “old enough to fight, old enough to vote” campaign to find another example of a successful youth movement. This campaign fought for the lowering of the US voting age from 21 to 18, intensifying during the Vietnam War when men were not given the vote, yet were conscripted to fight for their country. The campaign would lead to the passing of the 26th Amendment in 1971, once again showing the importance and potential of young people in politics.


Additionally, it seems that in recent years youth engagement in politics has increased dramatically. From Britain to America and across the world, the effects of this have been evident. Both Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership victory as well as Bernie Sanders better than expected second place performance in the Democratic Primary have been attributed to the increased political engagement of young people. Additionally, in the aftermath of the 2017 British Election it has become clear that that even though the substantially increased youth engagement didn't deliver Corbyn an outright victory, it did have an enormous effect. By voting for Labour in record numbers, 18– 24-year-olds played a huge part in stripping the Conservatives of their majority and in doing so they humiliated the Prime Minister, putting pressure on Theresa May's Government to change certain policies (the consequence of which could be seen this week after the PM launched a review of tuition fees). 


So, while the critics of gun control may dismiss the opinions of the Florida survivors because of their youth, it is clear that this isn’t the first movement to be shaped by young people and it certainly won’t be the last.

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