Last year Margaret Rooke interviewed 50 young volunteers, fundraisers and campaigners from different countries for her book ‘You can Change the World!’ She’s contacted them again to see how they’re responding to the new crisis we’re facing. What’s clear is that coronavirus hasn’t stopped them in their tracks.
Over the past two years we’ve seen teenagers the world over skipping school to fight for the environment. Greta Thunberg, who launched this movement, was originally inspired by the USA’s ‘March for our Lives’ gun control activists. We’re used to seeing young people on the streets, helping to transform the worst aspects of our world. So, stuck at home, are they now taking an enforced break from campaigning or are they still working towards the greater good?
In Florida, USA, 16-year-old Taylor Richardson, is an activist who usually campaigns for everyone to be able to push for success in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects, no matter their colour or gender. She’s currently switched to raising funds for emergency childcare for essential workers, helping to keep communities and hospitals running. “It’s personal for me because my dad is a doctor on the frontlines, working to save lives,” she explains.
Also in the US, 19-year-old Trisha from Illinois, who developed the hugely influential ReThink movement against cyberbullying in schools, is shifting her campaign to confronting online hate in homes.
“We’re taking this opportunity to mobilize and build our efforts to
tackle online hate in non-educational spaces,” she says. “I think online bullying is applicable to any situation, including the current situation we’re in. COVID-19 has contributed to xenophobia and racism, especially against Asian-Americans here in the US. It’s so important that we address that.
“Even now teenagers can work to create a strong foundation for powerful movements to take hold when we’re back to normal.”
Lucy, age 18, of Sheffield, was 14 when she persuaded Tesco and other supermarkets to stop selling eggs from caged hens. She continues to be a prominent animal rights champion. She questions how interested an audience might be now to a campaigner’s ideas. “Those of us who want to carry on campaigning during the lockdown must make sure that what we’re doing makes us feel empowered and productive. If our work is being well received, it’s worth keeping these issues above water. Injustice has been far from placed on lockdown.
Imani, 19, from Los Angeles, USA, is clearer that now is the perfect time to enact a new campaign. “Personally, I think it would be great to base the campaign around the potential initiatives we could look into to motivate people during the quarantine period. It’s absolutely crucial that we remind others that being in quarantine doesn’t limit their ability to make an impact and be heard.
“My peers and I have been communicating over social media and sharing different campaigns and motivational posts with each other. We really don’t have much else to do!
Agreeing that now is a tough time for teens concerned about their mental health is transgender campaigner Ben, 24, from Kent. However, he suggests that this time is best spent working on campaigns that can be launched when the crisis is over. “If I was to work on a campaign on trans-pregnancy, for example, I would do the research now, discuss with friends about what changes they feel are needed and put a PowerPoint together in order to run a campaign in schools when this is over. This gives you something to look forward to in the future, when we’re no longer inside 24/7.”
So, do they wait to campaign, spending this time working towards future campaigning, or start now? Nina, 24, from London UK, says, “My first reaction was to think that it would be hard to get momentum going for a campaign that wasn’t directly associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, but then I saw one of my old fundraisers do a highly successful fundraising campaign and this changed my stance. So now I think that, for some people, it can be more effective to plan for when things go back to normal if campaigning would be too stressful with everything else going on – people have to take care of themselves first before doing anything else. However, I know that campaigning for important issues is great for society and can give people drive and purpose. If it doesn’t stress them out, then campaigning now is a great thing to do.”
From a locked-down Canberra, Australia, Liam, 18, is focussing on wellbeing. “Physical fitness is a big part of life and it’s so important to keeping your mental health in a good state. The first thing I would suggest is to get out and go for a walk or run, but that’s pointless if you don’t have goals. Set yourself a certain time for running or a certain number of push-ups. This will help you keep motivation and passion.”
Fifteen-year-old campaigner Lili, from London, is spending her time in lockdown thinking about what good can come out of the quarantine. “The NHS is being appreciated,” she says, “Pollution has decreased because people are not travelling so much, and some people have time to be productive on personal projects and spend extra time with their families – though I know this isn’t the case for everyone.
“For me this is a time to try to think positively.”
Whatever their decision – to care for themselves and hold off on campaigning for the future, or to keep going right now – none of these young people have shifted from the causes they believe in. They’re all looking to the future to help make the changes they want to see in the world.
“For young campaigners, lockdown is a forced moment for rejuvenation and recovery,” says climate change activist Katie Hodgetts, 24. “I think a pause from campaigning is welcome.
“As changemakers and as humans we have a limited capacity for what we can do without burning out. In these times, I believe that this energy should be directed towards kindness to our neighbours and support for the most vulnerable.”
She adds, “This pandemic has created a forced commonality between us, for reaching out and checking in to old friends and new friends.
“I personally keep positive through structure and meditation. I get dressed in clothes that make me feel fabulous. When you dress for yourself, not for others, a lockdown is irrelevant. And I’m running mass mindfulness online classes where young people can meet and meditate at zoom.us/j/987553096
“If we’re able to view lockdown as moment to slow down, to prioritise our health, wellbeing and relationships,” she says, “We will emerge from this as restored and revitalised agents for change.”
You can Change the World! Everyday Teen Heroes Making a Difference Everywhere by Margaret Rooke (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)