Opinion: What We Can Learn From Youth Activism Since The Turn of The Century

Youth Activism is a product of the century in which it was born. Starting in the 1950s as a way to rebel against the conservative way of life of their parents (members of the silent generation), baby boomers started to create their own culture. Thus, a greater need was created for the larger American zeitgeist to conform to their own world view; nowhere was this greater felt than in the protest of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.

These protests, which fought everything from McCarthyism and Nuclear Warfare to the Vietnam War, set forth a long tradition of fighting for the values that the youth believed in. The effects of which still shape our culture until today, as our youth continues that long tradition by continuing to fight for the policies they believe in.

What has changed exactly? Contrary to popular belief, not a lot has. While the youth activists of the late 1900s fought against everything from the Vietnam draft and the threat of nuclear warfare, the youth activists of today fight in favor of policies like the DREAM Act, gun reform, and the Black Lives Matter Movement.

The severity of these causes certainly hasn’t changed, climate change is as big a threat as ever, and lives continue to be at risk through gun violence and police brutality. The look of the movement has also not changed as much as people would like to insinuate. Minorities, today, continue to be eager to rise up for the causes that have almost always disproportionately affected their communities.

So what has changed exactly? - nothing, except the people leading it. As the youth that once led the movement age and shift comfortably into their own way of life, it’s natural that they slowly start to disapprove of the actions that they once took part in.

Almost as history was repeating itself, we are seeing again and again the same old tired tropes of “protester abashment.” In no time period of history, especially in the last century, have protests ever been fairly recognized for their bravery in moments that they happened; the freedom riders were not paraded as champions of racial equality it the moment that they rode through the deep south and neither were the brave little rock nine who, despite rising above the verbiage that they were called, their recognition did not come until a long after. These protesters were abashed and criticized for the chaos that they were framed as creating, when it was only their actions for which they were responsible for and not the ones of their detractors.

If there is one important aspect to remember about this is that youth activism hasn’t always been perfect and it never will be, but to want to silence the voices of so many for just the actions of a few is abjectly wrong. We as a country should be able to see through the facades of this chaos and see the true intentions of these protests, that is if we have learned anything from the protest of the last century.


Young Americans Coalition for Unity, Inc.

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