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The Young People — it’s a label I’ve seen used to dismiss an entire generation as hopelessly naive and ignorant.
The Young People don’t know how to communicate; they’re always on their phones. The Young People just go with the trends; they don’t think for themselves. The Young People are over-sensitive; I can’t take all of this political correctness.
Last week, we even heard this disparaging attitude from presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in her appearance on Meet the Press:
“I feel sorry sometimes for the young people who, you know, believe this, they don’t do their own research.”
In this case, she’s responding to apparent ‘misinformation’ young people like me believe about her campaign’s ties to the fossil fuel industry and the money she’s taken from fossil fuel lobbyists.
But this isn’t the first time I’ve heard from older voters, especially in this election, that young people are quick to join political and social movements without getting our facts straight. Even outside of the presidential election, I’ve seen the rising number of young people participating in these movements met with comments that belittle our intelligence and preparedness.
And it’s certainly happened to me. When I decided to stop eating meat for environmental reasons, even my own family dismissed it as a fad I would pass through.
“I give it a week,” one family member said to me.
There seems to be a myth among the adults around me that civic engagement is a trend. While browsing social media comments, I’ve lost count of how many times anonymous accounts have decried The Young People’s lack of gratitude for living in the United States: “You’ve got it so good here. Stop complaining.”
This seems to be a common complaint from older generations: not thanking them for what they have given us.
But to young activists, we are honoring all generations by doing work that affects everyone.
That’s why there’s no age specification for the Greenpeace action days that I’ve participated in. We all go out and talk to the public, and my voice matters just as much as someone’s twice my age. Isn’t how that it’s supposed to be in a democracy — everyone deserves an equal voice?
At the pro-democracy rallies I’ve been to in New York — some of them positioned outside Clinton fundraisers — we’ve been met with all too familiar dismissal from outsiders looking in.
“Go home to mommy, kids,” shouted one passerby in Manhattan. “Get a job!” yelled a speeding cab driver. Our chants for Secretary Clinton to “sign the pledge” and say no to money from fossil fuel lobbyists were met with glares and eye rolls.
These people weren’t shy about decrying our activism. I wonder, though, why they didn’t bother to ask us what we were fighting for.
It’s too bad, because what we are fighting for matters just as much for them as it does for us.
Greenpeace’s democracy campaign is about getting corporate money out of politics and putting the power back in the hands of the people — people of all ages. The Pledge to Fix Democracy was put forward by more than 20 social and environmental groups. Chief among its asks is the promise to reject money from fossil fuel industry lobbyists, executives, and board members.
I showed up to the rally outside of Secretary Clinton’s fundraiser last week because I had done my research, and I knew that fossil fuel lobbyists have contributed more than $1 million to her campaign.
Young activists like myself and Eva Resnick-Day — the one who thanked Secretary Clinton for her climate commitments and asked if she would further act by rejecting fossil fuel money — know better than to take words at face value. We want proof in a broken political system that our elected officials will prioritize us over big donors.
I think we, The Young People, deserve a bit more credit.
We’re critical of the status quo, of the corporate interests that have gridlocked our democracy, because we’ve done our research. We’re taking action across the country — including outside of Clinton fundraisers — because the facts tell us that if we don’t act now, we’ll lose our chance to prevent runaway climate change.
We haven’t just done our own research, we’re acting on it.
I’d like to address all the young people who’ve been cut off in conversation, who’ve been ignored on the streets, who’ve been lectured on their privilege and scolded for their ignorance.
Your efforts are not made in vain. Your ambition to improve an unjust society is not an annoyance. It is not a trend. If it weren’t for you, news wouldn’t spread as quickly. If it weren’t for you, we’d all go on accepting what we’re given. And if it weren’t for you, we’d remain stagnant in history.
This isn’t about bending comments like Clinton’s — comments that undermine our intelligence and place us in cribs and highchairs rather than at podiums and protests. It’s about meeting today’s biggest challenges with our facts ready and our voices strong
Now get out there and get criticized.
Alexandra Dos Santos, 18, is a writer and activist from Long Island, New York. She is currently going to school for journalism at St. Joseph’s College, Brooklyn.
Copyright 2016 Alexandra Dos Santos. First published by Greenpeace.
Alexandra Dos Santos (far right) joins pro-democracy activists at a rally outside a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in New York City. Greenpeace is asking all presidential candidates to refuse contributions from fossil fuel lobbyists and executives.