For today’s youth, the ability to make change is a survival skill

From protest parties to school strikes, young people are learning — and inventing — the life skills they'll need to create a world that works for them, and everyone.
Extinction Rebellion floated a sinking house down the River Thames in London earlier this month. (Extinction Rebellion/Guy Reese)

It’s a thing. Parents are hosting protest parties instead of birthday parties. The kids design signs, hold a march with their friends, and do a demonstration for peace, love, kindness or whatever. It’s training in standing up and speaking out — two prized freedoms in the United States. And it gives kids an experience they’re going to need again and again, probably in situations that are far less fun.

Young people just a few years older than these kids are staging school walk-outs over the lack of gun control, the climate crisis, the overuse of standardized tests, racist police shootings and more. They’re holding occupations to overturn racist school policies. They’re taking a knee along with athlete Colin Kaepernick. They’re organizing to protect their friends who are undocumented students. To this generation, the ability to make change is a survival skill for a world in crisis. These are the life skills they’ll need to create a world that works for them — and everyone.

As grown-ups, we need these skills as much as they do. And, more importantly, we need to understand both the full collection of methods of taking action, and the strategy behind why and how they work. There are over 300 different methods of nonviolent action, including everything from boycotts and strikes to divestment and blockades. Some are acts of protest and persuasion. Others remove our cooperation and support from an injustice. Still, others give us ways to directly intervene in a problem, blocking it or disrupting the system that allows it to continue.

These are the tools of citizens. They are another form of checks-and-balance, one that allows citizens to stand up to government inaction or corruption, corporate destruction, or systems of violence and oppression. All over the world, people are putting these tools to work. As the editor of the weekly Nonviolence News, I see the inspiring stories in action all the time. Every story shows us how we, too, can take action to make change. Take the following stories from this week’s news, for example.

The floating house

In a highly creative act of protest, Extinction Rebellion activists floated a sinking house down the Thames River. The action, they stated, was in solidarity with all the people who are losing their homes to rising sea levels. The floating house was also a reminder that, while it may be easier to make a sign than an enormous float, the more creativity you use, the more headlines you grab.

The commuter rail eat-in

After a commuter rail rider was detained for eating a sandwich on a BART station platform, riders held an eat-in protest. They brought their lunches and ate on the platform, defying the rules to put out its injustice. This is an example of mass non-compliance with a law to make it unenforceable and challenge both its legitimacy and its selective enforcement.

The libraries boycott

Objecting to inflated ebook prices and unfair practices, libraries across the country have decided to boycott two ebook publishers whose policies unfairly cost libraries high prices. Boycotts are a powerful form of action that can be organized by consumers, suppliers, industries, shipping companies, and more.

Platform power

Soccer star Megan Rapinoe was given the “Woman of the Year Award”. She used her podium and platform to speak up for Colin Kaepernick who has been shunned by the football industry for his Anthem Protests. Rapinoe highlighted the ways he’s been made to suffer even as she was awarded this prize for her activism on and off the field. This is an example of how people use platforms – both large and small – to speak up on behalf of others.

Transforming an unloved bus circle

Transition Town in Tooting, United Kingson, transformed an unloved bus circle into an ad-hoc village green. They hosted a day of gatherings with food, music, games, civic meetings, and more. This is an example of an under-emphasized type of action: positive action, constructive action, and building the solution. We often forget about the power and beauty of this type of action . . . but when we tap into it, it can unleash our hearts not just the heat of our outrage.

Nurses dress up newborns in red cardigans to honor Mr. Rogers

In honor of Mr. Roger’s wife, who visited a hospital on World Kindness Day, the nurses in the maternity ward dressed the newborns in red cardigans to honor a man who advocated kindness. This is a great example of how we don’t have to take to the streets to make a powerful point. Sometimes, taking action in our workplaces, schools, offices, stores, or even homes can be powerful and meaningful.

These are just a few of the many examples. I collect 30-50 stories of nonviolence in action each week. (You can sign-up for the free weekly newsletter here.) While we throw protest parties for our kids, let’s make sure that we’re learning about and engaging in the many other types of actions that are needed to make change. These are survival skills for all of us in a world that must change.

This story was produced by Metta Center for Nonviolence

We provide educational resources on the safe and effective use of nonviolence, with the recognition that it’s not about putting the right person in power but awakening the right kind of power in people. We advance a higher image of humankind while empowering people to explore the question: How does nonviolence work, and how can I actively contribute to a happier, more peaceful society?

Waging Nonviolence partners with other organizations and publishes their work.