In American society, there is an unfortunate propensity to elevate the opinions of established “experts,” while excluding the potentialities of young people. News channels are crammed with commentators over the age of fifty. New York Times columnists are increasingly over the age of sixty. And Congress would be better named “the sixties club.”
The political power of aging incumbents, the septuagenarian grip on public opinion, and the non-consultative structures of (just barely) post-colonial humanitarianism, all serve to lock young people out of spaces of power. As a result, young people are forced to inherit a future, prepackaged and degraded with time, when they have so much to offer in making their own.
My aim is not to argue that adults are incapable or inefficient, for I would be mistaken. I only hope to draw attention to the disregarded power of the youth voice. Many members of the old guard will say that young people are not ready, and attempt to shut the door; but they are in fact mistaken, for the power of the youth voice is immeasurable, its potential infinite.
Greta Thunberg protested outside the Swedish Parliament during the hottest summer in Swedish history, sparking an international movement to address global warming. Malala Yousafzai practically rose from the dead, emerging from the hospital to advocate for women’s rights, challenging one of the most dangerous terrorist organizations in the world. And thousands of young people have taken to the streets of Ukraine, fearlessly fighting for their lives, making headlines around the world. For every youth movement that made the news, there are a thousand that the headlines never reached. Young people refuse to accept the world as it is, and instead imagine it as it could be, despite the risk, regardless of reward.
I have witnessed the power of persistence in my own advocacy. Four years ago I was raising money in French class to support the education of Palestinian refugees. Three years ago I was freelancing in the desert of Amman, interviewing the Syrian refugees of Zaatari. And just over a year ago, I was making speeches at Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi’s events, trying to get the world to pay attention to the plight of young people on the margins of society. I had no organization, no funding, no platform — only a journal, a camera and a dream.
Now, I represent over 100 youth-led NGOs from across all seven continents as Global Youth Representative at Education Cannot Wait, the United Nations fund for education in emergencies. At monthly meetings, I’m surrounded by secretaries of education, foreign ministers and corporate executives, everyone at least twenty years my senior; yet, every moment I feel such community because I know my appointment will be the first of many.
I urge those turning the gears of power to tap into the youth voice, for I was able to work with ECW because they recognized its potential. And I urge young people to cling to their dreams, no matter how unrealistic they seem, because the most seemingly inconsequential, if pursued long enough, can become reality.
H.D. Wright is a 19-year old writer, and the founder and editor of Transnational Politics, a youth-led political journal. In 2021, he was elected Global Youth Representative at Education Cannot Wait, the U.N. fund for education in emergencies, making him the first young person democratically elected to the governing body of a global humanitarian fund.
You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @_HDWright