The Climate: Is It an Emergency for Youth?

Today we went to Fridays For Future (FFF) at City Hall, a youth-based, peaceful organization striking for the climate emergency.

While I think we all felt proud of ourselves for showing up, I think it was also difficult for the group in two ways: 1) I don’t think the group felt like they were making a difference / did not feel like a part of a movement, despite joining the FFF group, 2) while some of the young people in the group seemed enthusiastic about doing something around the idea of a social justice and climate activism related activity (and certainly all have expressed a desire to “do something” around climate change), clearly at least half of the group don’t seem enthusiastic about going to such events and would prefer to “have fun.”

I think a big part of the reason this is so is because many of the young people signed up were not signing up with the intent to do social justice activities, despite the Friday Flying Squad explicitly described as such. This leaves me with the decision of what to do about this: do I tell those that are not interested to leave? Do I try to coerce them into becoming involved? Do I distort the intention of the group to accomodate them at the detriment of those that did sign up for social justice related reasons?

I asked two friends for opinions on the matter. I asked, if global warming is actually to a point of being an emergency (and I do think so), and “safety” is non-negotiable in Self-Directed Education, should involvement in the climate crisis be non-negotiable? My one friend, who is helping to actively run FFF (and Extinction Rebellion and unschools her children) said that she absolutely thinks it is non-negotiable. She did say that she thinks it is the obligation of the facilitation to try to make it fun and meaningful to the youth, but that involvement should be necessary.

My other friend runs a self-directed center for youth, and she thought otherwise: her feeling was more that it is the responsibility of the adults to do something about climate change and that this is a pressure that has been handed down and put upon youth, something we should try to hold back from becoming an anxiety and burden, despite the fact that it is indeed an emergency.

After thinking about it more, my own gut feeling seems to be more in agreement with the latter belief, children should not be required to be involved. And while climate change is a relatively new issue, I do think this is an age old question around Self-Directed Education: just how involved should children be in the politics of the adult world? How involved should they be in social justice and anti-oppression?

There are places like Summerhill, where children get to enjoy and live out their childhood completely undisturbed by the adult world’s impositions (until such a time that the youth choose to become involved). Places like this generally tend to be criticized for being utopic and privileged. There have also been self-directed spaces where activism has been at the core of daily activities. The most famous example that comes to mind for me is Ferrer’s Escuela Moderna in Barcelona in the early 20th century. I think a lot of anarchists would argue that this is a necessity in order to raise “good” anarchists who are active and aware of the world.

For me, I think the answer is a delicate one, somewhere in the middle. I certainly agree that in today’s world, turning a blind eye is negligent and even a racist / prejudiced, privileged act. But the act of imposing mutual aid and social justice related issues upon young shoulders is in and of itself an oppressive act. And so, it is the responsibility of the facilitator in such an environment to help the young people they are involved with to come to an understanding of why these issues are meaningful to the child and how and why to act.

I am sure I could have written this in a more eloquent way, but this is what has come out as I ride a train, distracted, trying to keep focus. I will continue to fumble my way about how to not impose social justice upon youth but to help them come to their own realization of why this is important. In the meantime, we will perhaps continue to falter and stumble our way along our path.