A Decade of New Youth Activism

by Raj Jayadev

I often hear older activists asking where activism has gone. Where are the Martins and Malcolms of today? They may not have heard of Karina Vargas, Annie Loya, or the youth behind the immigrants’ rights marches. But they should know these youth are part of vital, evolving movements that are going places where prior movements could not go. And given the challenges this next decade will lay at their feet, they’re going to need to go even further. These young people might not fit the traditional mold of “activist” and that might be the best thing about them.

Around this time last decade, I was wading through clouds of tear gas and dodging rubber bullets from the Seattle Police Department. I was 24, it was the World Trade Organization (WTO) protests and a moment that I thought signaled the inauguration of a new youth activism that would hit the ground running with the new millennium.

I was right about the arrival of a new political engagement of young people for the decade, but wrong in my presumption that it would look and feel like the activist movements in America’s past that I had read about. I thought young people, 16 to 24-year-olds, were going to continue what my generation did — fight for inclusion, to be part of the ongoing struggles over civil rights, immigration and the environment. Instead, they decided to lead them. They did so by redefining what it means to be an “activist,” who could be one, and new ways to get the job done. They made history in the process, and did so on their own terms.

In Seattle, I was part of a “youth of color contingent.” In a mainly older, white anti-globalization movement in the United States, to define and pronounce ourselves was important. Our fight was just to be part of the fight, and that’s exactly what we did. Never before had we known what it felt like to completely take over city blocks, to make global financial powers nervous, or to freeze a major international convening. Emboldened as to what was possible, some stayed in the anti-globalization movement (a term that admittedly seemed horribly ahistoric at this point) but most of us returned to the places where youth activism would really be cultivated, our local communities. Read more…


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