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There’s a video of seventeen-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg speaking at the 2019 United Nations Action Summitt.
She wears a bright pink top in sharp contrast to the row of adults next to her, who all adorn black suits and black formal dresses. Her hair is in a long braid that falls over her shoulder, her face bare with little to no makeup. She looks young. She looks like a kid.
“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?” Greta said to the crowd, voice full of emotion, expression full of disgust.
Greta Thunberg has been protesting for climate change reform in her home country of Sweden since she was eight-years-old. At 15, she dropped out of high school and began protesting across the world, amassing a huge following and widespread public recognition, including two consecutive Nobel Peace Prize nominations.
She is the most well-known climate change activist in the world and is only a few months older than me.
I cried watching her speech.
It tugged on something in my head, in my heart, that I didn’t even know was there. Feelings of bitterness, anger and a profound sadness washed over me. Her words resonated deeply.
The number of times adults have told me that my generation would be the one to fix the world is astounding.
After Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, my freshman year of high school, it seemed that many of the adults who voted against him gave up. The defeat was too great and the burden that came with constantly being outraged at his actions was too much to bear.
So they shifted the burden to us.
My teachers would flat out say that there was no hope for their generation, so they were relying on us, kids who weren’t even old enough to vote, to fix things. The climate change issues that have been building for decades were our responsibility to undo. The gun control laws that allow for our schools to get shot up, our friends to die and our fear to grow with every lockdown drill were ours to strike down.
We are the generation that is tasked with saving the world, and the pressure is crushing.
I started my first year of college this month. In one of my classes, we were told to share what we’d been thinking about recently, what had mostly been on our minds. My teacher said she’d been delving into the world of conspiracy theories and why people loved them. She smiled.
A girl with blonde hair said she’d just read an article about how rising sea levels are causing millions of species of plants and animals to go extinct, and she wondered how long we had left until the entire earth flooded.
A boy wearing a brightly colored shawl said he was from Canada and had just read an article about the gross mistreatment of Canada’s Native population spanning back centuries. He was having nightmares about it.
I said I’d been thinking about the Black Lives Matter protests going on in my neighborhood and how the chant of Breonna Taylor’s name sounded like a cross between a sob and a Sunday school song. I’d been thinking about how badly I wished I could go but, despite all the precautions my family had taken to protect ourselves from the Coronavirus, America’s carelessness won out. We all contracted the virus and it would be weeks before we dared to step outside again.
Our answers were depressing and not at all what our professor expected. They were a reflection of how my generation has grown up, submerged in a constant news cycle of global problems we have been made to feel it is up to us to fix.
I have been to more protests than I have school dances.
I have signed more petitions than yearbooks.
I have read more articles than young adult novels because if I am not constantly consuming information that might somehow help me save the world, I feel like I am wasting time.
“How dare you?” Greta asked in the video to a crowd of silent adults. “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet, I’m one of the lucky ones”
I am one of the lucky ones.
I have not lived through a mass shooting, unlike so many people my age and younger. I have not had to flee my home because of the wildfires that continue to rage across the west coast. I have not yet lost my life to the police brutality and white supremacy that so deeply pervade America.
I am so lucky.
Despite the stress and heartache and despair that comes with having been an activist since what feels like forever, I wouldn’t change it. I will always carry this burden, even if it was not my choice to pick it up.
I am only asking for the adults who gave up all those years ago to begin engaging again.
Vote like you tell us to vote.
Protest like you tell us to protest.
Stop telling my generation that the damage of this world is ours to mend with hands too young to do so on our own.
Help us save the world because it is your world too.