Stubborn, inspired and resourceful… Since the middle of the last century, students have become an engine power in the activist movement around the world.

Being the most interested in their bright future, students are able to quickly and massively unite. They have a common space, interests and priorities. Their passion and dreaminess lead to the arising of an inspired group, informed, educated and having spare time to devote. As modern students say, “there is not actually any free time, there are just priorities.”

According to the long-term UCLA research, today’s students are predisposed to be politically or civilly engaged. According to statistics, every tenth person in their college years participated in activists’ events. This figure is the highest for all years of research since the 60s of last century.

A generation that has grown up in conditions of at least modest comfort now lives in universities and looks anxiously at the world that we inherit. – The statement of the organization “Students for a Democratic Society”, 1962

With campus demonstrations gone from students’ civil rights to global discrimination issues, world may be facing a wave of student protest to a degree not seen since the 1960s.

 

Ground for revolt

The first student movements arose in Europe. Demonstrations, blockades, symbolic actions, strikes, distribution of leaflets and speeches, performances and information war… The government’s response to student activism can be very different: from the full acceptance of the students’ demands, including the creation of appropriate ministries and services, the reform of the state’s participation in industry and economy, to the shooting of peaceful demonstrations. Student movements, successful and unsuccessful, form public opinion and quite a long time influence it.

High school students demonstrate in Paris, on October 17, 2013, in protest against the deportation of foreign pupils following the high-profile eviction of a 15-year-old Roma girl.

In 2010 students crowded English, French, and Italian streets to protest against tuition fees rise and threat to social programs. The fight has not gone global, but has provoked talks about growing political consciousness among modern youth.

 

America makes a stand

In USA student activism has transformed university dormitories into centers of protest, reform and insurrection. The youth movement – along with the movement of African Americans, Hispanics, Indians and feminists – destroyed the current notion of the United States as a kind of “melting pot” where representatives of different peoples lose their national identity and instead form a new homogeneous sample called the “American character”. Recently observers started to attribute a resurgence trend to student activism. In 2012 The New York Times published article on “The New Student Activism”, linking the new phenomenon with the then popular Occupy Movement.

Every time we turn on the TV they call us criminals. The truth is we’re not aliens. We’re human beings. – Felipe Matos, a member of DREAM movement.

In 2010 Felipe Matos, Gaby Pacheco, Carlos Roa and Juan Rodriguez had walked from Miami to D.C., to promote the passage of the DREAM Act, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act. This legislation should have been allowed two million undocumented youth in U.S. gain a legal status. Within this campaign DREAMers tried to influence on people’s mind through real personal stories on marches and sit-ins. They performed 77,000 phone calls to senators. Despite the fact that Act was not approved in 2010, after years of pressure President Obama agreed to stop deportations of undocumented students and grant work permits for eligible youth.

We are going to put so much pressure on every single senator that is standing between ourselves and our dreams. –  Carlos Saavedra, a DREAM activist.

 

Social justice fight

American youth’ concern about people’s relation to them is a wide-pretension issue. They feel themselves offended by fast-food chains. In order to boycott this perception they organized national network Student/ Farmer Alliance collaborating with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Together they fight exploitation of farmers and demand justice, respect, and dignity within the food system.

LGBT harassment also primarily affects the younger generation. Michigan student activists succeeded in banning from university grounds and then firing the Assistant Attorney General, who led an abusive blog about a gay student. Meanwhile, after a series of suicides due to anti-gay bullying, the youth organized a “It Gets Better” campaign. It shares 50,000 video testimonies to inspire hope for young people and show that it really gets better. In 2010 the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act was introduced to Congress.

 

Why highschool protests are ignored?

While the media dedicates all attention to college protesting, very few American media accounts the fact that activism has gone to the high school level.

Children are too frequently viewed as objects rather than agents. Their status as minors forces them to go to great lengths to voice their opinions on issues that impact them the most.

US high school activists are concerned not only about curriculum changes and practice of standardized tests, but also fight against racist discrimination and police brutality. After the acquittal of the police officers who shot dead unarmed black men Michael Brown and Eric Garner, high school activists massively organized solidarity events across the country.

Of course, one cannot say that their level of awareness and understanding is not inferior to adults. However, we will make a mistake if we say that school pupils are dolls in the hands of more experienced puppeteers. In most cases, society does not take school activists seriously, seeing them as inexperienced, young and dependent.

For these reasons there are such organizations as WKCD, What Kids Can Do. This nationwide NGO was founded  in 2001 in order to fill the imbalance in the youth media representation. The organization’s resource collects hundreds of stories to show what the youth are capable of, when they are supported, trusted and listened to. Mostly, it represents small local cases you would never hear about from the mainstream media.

Extensive criticism of the student movement concerns a simplified and subjective view of both conflict sides. Student activists are usually portrayed as spoiled rich children who are simply rebelling against power over them and willing to skip school. Meanwhile, they tend to stigmatize objects of their protests as unilateral demons.

 

Kids’ voice

Often the stereotype that the student movement is a ploy of political agitators and organizations prevails. These prejudices prompt the school administration to conditional security measures. Among the most innocuous there are security guards on the school grounds and exclusion of any mentions about militant political movements from the curriculum, but in some places it came to attracting police and even the FBI monitoring potentially dangerous groups of school activists.

As long as the cultural belief that “children should be seen, not heard” continues, students’ voices will remain absent from discussions about school policies.

Today, many school activists are aimed at convincing the society about their competence and, more importantly, the importance of their voice. For example, when Hillary Clinton scheduled a visit to the Rainier Beach High School, it caused a stir among  students. It was not teenage excitement due to the fact that some celebrity from the TV screen comes. This was a stormy outcry of politically-concerned citizens of the United States. Being a school with mostly students of color and poor background, they are especially sensitive to the events occurring in the political world. On that day no one heeded the fears and resistance of students. Did they have a choice? No.

We, as students, should have a right to decide whether our school is used as a stage for a political candidate, especially if a lot of the students and staff do not think that a particular candidate has their best interests at heart. – Rainier Beach High School students.

 

Kids can fight

More revealing is that schoolchildren not only demand, but also act. Baltimore Algebra Project, who is completely comprised of youngsters, aims to provide all students with quality education, focusing on learning math subjects.  The project employs youngsters as tutors and teacher assistants guaranteeing them a living wage. Meanwhile, activists participate in campaigns advocating a national Student Bill of Rights and fighting ”the school-to-prison pipeline”.

One of the most long-living and extensive student organizations has been based in Boston since 1996. BYOP, a Boston-based Youth Organizing Project, is a living movement that has branches in 22 schools in the region. The involved youth is struggling not only to improve the conditions of internment within the school, but also to access public transportation passes and other city initiatives.

The list of student movements is quite extensive. It is indicative that higher educational institutions encourage the attraction of young people to active citizenship. Upon admission to school, such students receive scholarships and grants.

 

Not youth war

Student activism does not make noise just about youth-related issues. They are concerned about global controversies and disaster, such as climate change. Young environmentalists participate in the first forum on environmental justice. They talked about peculiarities of environmental impact on low-income and minority communities. It is significant that the youth not only nominally and silently sit, but boldly expresses their opinions and protests, for which in 2011 representatives were forced out of COP 16 negotiations.

One of the thing that ties (the campus movements) all together is a sense that the future doesn’t look as rosy as it might have a few years ago. – Angus Johnston, a professor at the City University of New York who specializes in student activism.

Student activism now elaborates the issue of anti-Islamic perceptions. When Manhattan became in the midst of disputes on the destiny of Islamic cultural center, youngsters organize campaign in order to demystify Islam and American fear of it. Within this project, Bassam Tariq and Aman Ali held dozens of meetings in dozens of mosques.

I hope that what we have done stands the test of time. It’s like Islam-on-trial right now…the problem is we don’t go out and meet our neighbours.

Today, young people are preeminently portrayed as politically indifferent, repeatedly emphasizing that their share of votes in elections is catastrophically minimal. They themselves explain this position by the fact that youth has lost confidence in the mathematics of such polls. Thus, student activism is a more fertile way to cast their vote, express their opinion and influence the fate of the country, people and their future.

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