Young people’s role in creating positive change

During this year’s summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, held in Bogota, young leaders around the world drafted their own declaration to promote global peace. Here is how it began:

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We the global youth, reject your ideologies which tear people apart, instead of bringing them together.

We reject the status quo, we reject hatred, we reject discrimination in all its forms, we reject war, ignorance and apathy, corruption, fear, and the abuse of power. We reject racism, homophobia, sexism, ageism, islamophobia, xenophobia and we reject the war against refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and immigrants. We promote the values of human rights, compassion, freedom, equality, justice and self-sacrifice; and are prepared to live out these values through leading by example.

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Those powerful words reminded me of the vital role young people play in creating lasting positive change in the world. At their best, young people are change makers who can do anything they set their minds to. Even in times of hopelessness. Even in communities burdened by a legacy of displacement, unemployment, addiction and violence.

Recently, a small group of young people united together to ensure that their native land and drinking water were protected from the likely damage of a proposed oil pipeline. They had inherited an environmental crisis and set out to do something about it. They camped for months at the Missouri River in solidarity with other Sioux bands to protect the land from the pipeline. Social media helped amplify their work and their needs, and the camp grew - and so did awareness about the Dakota Access Pipeline. When the young people were sent food donations, they shared it with the sheriff’s officers who tried to kick them off the land. The young people organized a 500 mile relay run to meet with the Army Corps (imagine their surprise to learn that it was young people on the front line). Within six months their camp was the epicentre of a global movement that successfully pressured the US Army Corps of Engineers to pause their work to find another route.

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The story of these young people who started a movement is truly inspiring read. Their battle is not yet won and there may be more cold winter days and nights ahead (The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe are currently locked in US district court after the new administration recently resumed construction and drilling).

Another inspiration is Congressman John Lewis, who was once a young student leader in the civil rights protests of the early 1960s that paved the way for desegregation and equal rights. A recent interview with the Congressman brings us back to the days of lunch counter sit-ins and peaceful demonstrations confronted by a police force equipped with dogs, tear gas and billy clubs. Years later, he ran into a state trooper who was on the other side of the bridge; you may know enough about Congressman Lewis to know his entire life story is about practising love and forgiveness, but listen to the interview to find out what happened.

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Congressman Lewis’ words are an inspiration for anybody who faces a long road with tough fights ahead. He and those standing up at the Dakota Access Pipeline are living proof that young people not only show the injustice to stand up against, but also the values we should all stand up for.

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