Education vs. Advocacy-Based Activism: What is Stopping Youth?

How often do youth actually get a say in municipal politics? Youth voices – especially those of high school students – youth that are transitioning into adulthood – deserve a place at the table when it comes to making decisions at the local level.

You see it on social media, in schools and in the community – youth activists spreading awareness about issues affecting the environment.  However, how often do you see youth groups that create change at the political level? How often do youth actually get a say in municipal politics? Youth voices – especially those of high school students – youth that are transitioning into adulthood – deserve a place at the table when it comes to making decisions at the local level.

Youth are experienced

Youth are experienced in and have been successful at educating other youth on environmental issues through social media, face-to-face conversations, and awareness projects in schools. In the community, we plant trees, organize nature walks, pick up garbage and raise money for bigger organizations.

These initiatives are all undoubtedly important and are a cornerstone of activism and community engagement. Youth are great at these education-based initiatives, however too often we see youth initiatives finish or fizzle out before real, lasting change can be made.

Photo of two girls planting a tree. Credit Eyoel Kahssay.

Initiatives like these do help local communities, yet the larger, even more impactful change that youth groups are looking for can be found within advocacy.

Speaking to politicians, protesting actions or influencing local communities to create greener policies and protect the environment. Advocacy is bringing (some might say forcing) youth environmentalism into the adult spheres we are often isolated from or aren’t welcomed into.

Seeing the political changes created thanks to youth advocacy will further motivate groups to keep pushing for a greener future, and it can help fight some of the burnout or mental health struggles that come with focusing on short-term solutions.

Why is it so difficult?

All that aside, why is it so difficult for youth to begin engaging in and developing their own advocacy initiatives? Why aren’t they taking part in public meetings, or getting involved in local politics?

In short, youth groups don’t have the tools, information or support they need in order to begin advocating.

A key reason why more youth initiatives aren’t advocacy-based is because youth groups simply do not have the resources or information necessary to get involved.

We are being kept in the dark about the topics and policies being debated right within our communities – developments that will directly affect our futures.

Community supported, advocacy for a safe and secure future.

Governments have failed to act to protect our communities and the futures of our children and grandchildren, and they continue to treat our environment as if it’s incidental to life, rather than a foundation for it.

We need strong community organizations to fight for our future, now more than ever.

Please consider donating to support our work. It’s people like you who make us possible.

“…youth groups don’t have the tools, information or support they need in order to begin advocating.

Simcoe County's future.

For example, Simcoe County is undergoing a Municipal Comprehensive Review.

The county is deciding how the land will be used, how much we will protect our natural heritage sites and watersheds, and whether or not we will introduce policies that fight and prevent climate change. The decisions they make now will be in place until 2051 – yep, THIRTY YEARS – and will affect the health of Simcoe County (and area) for many years after.

In 2051 I will be 46 years old. I will be part of the adult population. So why is it that youth voices are not being sought out regarding policies that will directly affect them? 

It is crucial that youth groups in Simcoe County begin advocating on environmental issues NOW, especially while the MCR is being developed.

Why advocacy is so important.

If youth aren’t aware of something as large and literally life-altering as the MCR, imagine all the smaller issues that we aren’t aware of; issues that can still affect our environment, way of life, and futures. This is why youth advocacy is so important – our voices must be heard on these topics as we are the ones that will have to grow up and live in the society created from these decisions.

Advocacy will be more difficult for youth groups to engage in compared to the short-term education initiatives we’re used to.

We won’t be taken seriously and we’ll have to be ready to get our boots dirty and remain persistent if we want to get things done – especially in the face of politicians that aren’t willing to take our opinions into consideration.

But if there’s one thing we’ve seen in youth it is that they are bold, courageous and determined to protect their futures – even if it means ruffling a few feathers along the way.

“If youth aren’t aware of something as large and literally life-altering as the MCR, imagine all the smaller issues that we aren’t aware of; issues that can still affect our environment, way of life, and futures.”

At the end of the day, we can plant as many trees as we want, but if youth groups don’t increase their advocacy initiatives, their impact will not be large enough to create the change they want to see: the real, systemic, earth-saving changes that are most successful when they come from the bottom up.

That impact is found where the adults are. It is found in public meetings, outside of offices, in the streets, and eventually, inside the voting booths. Who knows, maybe with enough youth advocacy politicians will see just how powerful youth voices – and votes – can be.

Let’s go show our local politicians just how ready we are to fight for our futures!

~

Like always, let me know your thoughts on or experiences with this subject.

Looking for some community issues? Check out some of the initiatives SCGC is exploring:

The Bradford Bypass: https://simcoecountygreenbelt.ca/bradford-bypass/

Protecting Lake Simcoe: https://simcoecountygreenbelt.ca/protect-lake-simcoe/ 

Local Issues Map: https://simcoecountygreenbelt.ca/map/ 

That’s all for now,

Blythe 🙂

Blythe Wieclawek

Blythe Wieclawek

Blythe is SCGC's inaugural summer youth advocacy intern. She is a high school student in Orillia, a competitive swimmer, and president of Sustainable Orillia's Youth Council.

How Can You Get Involved?

  1. Follow (and join?) the Simcoe County Environmental Youth Alliance (SCEYA) and Sustainable Orillia’s Youth Council.
  2. Sign up for our newsletter (bottom of the page) to support future youth initiatives. (We’ve got plans! 🙂)
  3. See if there’s a local FridaysForFuture group you can support. If you’re supporting as an adult make sure to empower the youth who are engaged.
  4. Share this post on social media and get involved in the conversation using the comments below!

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Community supported, advocacy for a safe and secure future.

Governments have failed to act to protect our communities and the futures of our children and grandchildren, and they continue to treat our environment as if it’s incidental to life, rather than a foundation for it.

We need strong community organizations to fight for our future, now more than ever.

Please consider donating to support our work. It’s people like you who make us possible.

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