Photo via Check Your Head.
From the Arab Spring to Idle No More, young activists have emerged as key leaders within contemporary social movements. For youth, activism can be a way to create positive changes in our own lives, shape our communities and re-imagine our world. Youth don't hold a lot of power in our society; age-based laws restrict our right to vote and run for office, while authority figures like parents, teachers, and employers hold a lot of power over us. For many youth, activism is a way for our voices to be heard.
Founded in 1999, Check Your Head is a youth-driven non-profit, which means our approach to social justice places youth leadership at the centre. We don’t want to just add youth and stir. We believe youth have valuable experiences, knowledge and perspectives to share regarding the complex issues that we face now and in the future. We are working to build a dialogue within and across communities of young people by facilitating workshops on critical issues like gender representations, climate justice, income inequality and more. We’re interested in supporting and empowering communities of youth to address the issues that matter to them.
According to Statistics Canada, there are over 10 million people under 25 in Canada, making us about a third of the total population. Youth are not just another problem to solve; we are millions of potential problemsolvers. The most effective way to address the issues affecting youth today is to empower young people to become leaders for change within our communities.
Our generation is often labeled as aimless and apathetic but the idea that youth are disconnected from the world around us is far from true. In reality, youth are directly impacted by the social, economic and environmental forces shaping our world.
Racism shapes the lives of young people of colour, who experience higher rates of surveillance and policing. Queer and trans youth are overrepresented within street-involved communities, which can be a result of homophobia and transphobia within our families of origin and other institutions. Youth from poor and working-class communities are disproportionately impacted by youth unemployment rates and discrimination in hiring.
Youth are not a single community or special interest group. Rather, we belong to multiple, overlapping communities. Our lived experiences hold power and connect us as young people to broader movements for social change. We are the experts of our own experiences and we have valuable perspectives to offer any movement for justice and liberation.
Unfortunately, youth perspectives are not always taken seriously, even within progressive movements and organizations. Since many young activists have limited institutional power—not even the right to vote—how can we shape our world for the better?
Youth are finding answers. We are organizing youth conferences, carrying banners at rallies, volunteering at community organizations, talking to our peers about social justice and bugging our parents to compost. We are asking more from schools, companies, and countries. For example, Kids for Climate Action is a group of Vancouver youth who are canvassing, protesting, and petitioning for action to end climate change. They recognize that it is the next generation that will pay for inaction today, and they’re not alone.
Check Your Head works to educate, activate and engage young people on the issues that matter most to our communities. If we want to address housing and homelessness, the hundreds of street-involved youth in Vancouver have insight to share. If we want to fight homophobia, queer young people are on the frontlines.
If we want to talk about sustainable communities, that’s where youth want to live. For social movements to make headway, youth need to be included as part of the effort, because we are part of the solution. These are our problems, this is our city, this our planet, and we’ve got work to do.
Kaitlin Pelletier is executive director of Check Your Head, a youth-driven not-for-profit organization based in Vancouver that educates and activates young people on various social issues.
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