Great Expectations

Great Expectations

There is an expectation which has fallen on the youth of today; that we must fix the problems our predecessors have caused. Between the likes of Greta Thunberg, the climate activist who made headlines after her recent speech at the UN, and Emma Gonzalez, the powerhouse who helped organise March For Our Lives on behalf of gun control last year, and Autumn Peltier, the Native American teenager working on behalf of clean water protection, the world has seen its fair share of young activists.

But my issue is that why should they have to fight the battles which should be fought on their behalf? In the words of Greta Thunberg herself in her speech at the UN Climate Summit earlier this month, “I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!”.

Young people are losing their childhoods trying to undo the wrongs of the past, whilst the politicians who could be aiding them are either mocking them or are watching on in astonishment. And yes. It is astonishing that at such young ages, these young women are able to change the world. But it’s not their duty to change the world. Not yet anyway. It is their duty to gain an education and to learn and be free to explore who they are. The politicians watching them with starry-eyed gazes ought to be the ones protecting them. Protecting all of us – young and old.

Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida in 2018 had to co-fund the gun-control advocacy group. Never Again MSD, had to help organise March For Our Lives and held a six-minute silence for the victims of the shooting (six minutes was the length of the shooting) before any changes at all were made. Florida Legislature finally passed a bill titled ‘Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act’ thanks to the work of Emma Gonzalez and her co-founders; but she had to be the face of a generation at just 18 years old because the politicians she should be able to rely upon refused to raise their voices.

Greta Thunberg, at aged just sixteen is a face which is so recognisable. In August 2018, aged 15 years old, Greta Thunberg started spending her school days outside of the Swedish parliament in the hopes of climate change. Soon, many joined her call to arms, with the climate strike Fridays for Future being organised soon after. Following Thunberg’s 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference, student strikes took place worldwide each week. She took a racing yacht over the Atlantic to attend the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit in New York, to demonstrate the importance of reducing emissions. But at sixteen, although she is undoubtedly an icon, Greta Thunberg should be enjoying her time with friends – not worrying about the fact entire ecosystems are collapsing.

14 year-old Autumn Peltier is an internationally recognised advocate for clean water. An Anishinaabe-kwe and a member of Wikwemikong First Nation, she is a water protector who has addressed the UN General Assembly on the issue of water protection. Having been nominated for an International Children’s Peace Prize in 2017, 2018 and 2019, Peltier is known for her activism. But she’s fourteen. She was thirteen when she first addressed the United Nations. She deserves a childhood where the people who are in power are protecting the issues she is having to advocate for – it’s their job; it was never hers.

Yet these young women have all earned backlash for their work recently. Greta Thunberg was attacked for her looks – it says a lot when the only thing they have left to go after is your lack of a smile when you’re talking about the fact Earth may become unliveable soon.

A Republican congressman, Steve King, attacked Emma Gonzalez for wearing a Cuban flag on her jacket, stating, “this is how you look when you claim Cuban heritage yet don’t speak Spanish and ignore the fact that your ancestors fled the island when the dictatorship turned Cuba into a prison camp, after removing all weapons from its citizens; hence their right to self-defence”. The badge worn on Gonzalez’s jacket was adopted in 1902, fifty years before the communist take-over and has since been used by anti-Castro exiles as a symbol of patriotism.

These are young women. Young women who deserve the right to go about their teenage years in the way I was able to. We shouldn’t still be looking to them to lead the way, when politicians and world leaders should have been doing their jobs a long time ago.

Pressure is having three essays due in a week. Pressure is having to cram for exams each day of the week. Pressure is performing in a school show or being the one to score the winning try on the rugby field against an opposing school. Pressure should not be having the eyes on the world on you at all times and holding the weight of the world on your shoulders. It’s too much pressure for anyone – especially when there are adults in the world who are qualified and being paid to share the responsibility between them.

Although these young women are icons, they are also children. Their jobs aren’t to fix the world.

By Tirion Davies