The Parkland students who mobilized in the wake of that school shooting have been a much-needed bright spot in our gridlocked and polarized political discussions about gun violence and the reach of the Second Amendment. But the most wonderful thing about this group of poised and effective youngsters is they aren’t the only ones. A young, determinedly activist generation is emerging, and demanding that we adults get our acts together.
Much of the activism concerns climate change. A 15-year old recently confronted world leaders at a U.N. meeting about climate change, demanding action.
This 15-year-old has got something to say, and on June 29th, the United Nations General Assembly heard him loud and clear.
Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez stood before the representativesand spoke earnestly and boldly (without notes, for the record) about the urgency of climate change, urging them to take action immediately. “What’s at stake right now is the existence of my generation,” he said in his speech. “In the last 20 years of negotiations, almost no agreements have been made on a bonding climate recovery plan,” he said.
Fifteen-year-old Greta Thunberg has been protesting for more than a month. Before the country’s parliamentary election on September 9th, she went on strike and sat on the steps of the parliament building, in Stockholm, every day during school hours for three weeks. Since the election, she has returned to school for four days a week; she now spends her Fridays on the steps of parliament. She is demanding that the government undertake a radical response to climate change. She told me that a number of members of parliament have come out to the steps to express support for her position, although every one of them has said that she should really be at school.
And in October, a federal court ruled that a lawsuit brought by American children, asserting that they have a constitutional right to a habitable planet, could proceed.
A lawyer for a group of young Americans suing the federal government over climate change said a judge’s decision Monday to allow the suit to move forward should clear the way for a trial to begin on Oct. 29.
The suit, which was brought by 21 children and young adults, accuses federal officials and oil industry executives of violating their due process rights by knowing for decades that carbon pollution poisons the environment, but doing nothing about it.
“When the climate science is brought into the courtroom it will result in the judge finding that the government is committing constitutional violations,” said the lawyer for the kids, Phil Gregory.
It isn’t just climate change, however. In a suit that warms the cockles of my old, cold heart, Rhode Island, students are suing to force schools to teach civics.
Aleita Cook, 17, has never taken a class in government, civics or economics. In the two social studies classes she took in her four years at a technical high school in Providence, R.I. — one in American history, the other in world history — she learned mostly about wars, she said.
Left unanswered were many practical questions she had about modern citizenship, from how to vote to “what the point of taxes are.” As for politics, she said, “What is a Democrat, a Republican, an independent? Those things I had to figure out myself.”
Now she and other Rhode Island public school students and parents are filing a federal lawsuit against the state on Thursday, arguing that failing to prepare children for citizenship violates their rights under the United States Constitution.
The student plaintiffs allege that the state has failed to equip its students with the skills to “function productively as civic participants” and has failed to provide them with the information they need if they are to be capable of voting, serving on a jury and simply understanding the nation’s political and economic life.
The state allows local school districts to decide for themselves whether and how to teach civics, and the lawsuit says that leads to big discrepancies. Students in affluent towns often have access to a rich curriculum and a range of extracurricular activities, like debate teams and field trips to the State Legislature, that are beyond the reach of poorer schools.
The lawyers for the plaintiffs hope the case will have implications far beyond Rhode Island, and potentially prompt the Supreme Court to reconsider its 45-year-old ruling that equal access to a quality education is not a constitutionally guaranteed right.
I seem to recall a movie titled “The kids are all right.” These kids certainly are; in fact, they’re better than all right. They’re great.
I hope they kick our butts.