Children Take the Lead

Many in the US adult community were startled to hear that a 16-year-old girl from Norway was on a sailboat to speak before the UN. “What was this kid all about?”  People asked each other as she came into the New York harbor. When this youth named Greta Thunberg gave them a walloping speech at the United Nations about “stealing” her dreams, she was so right on.  The whole world sat up and took notice. 1 When Time Magazine made Greta the “Person of the Year,” the media started to scramble for stories of youth activism across the globe.  They didn’t have to look too far or too hard. 2

Up popped the tale of Licyapriya Kangujam of India barely 8 years old. This tiny person followed Greta’s technique of standing outside of her country’s parliament calling day after day, for real climate protective action. She developed what she calls a Sukifu – a backpack made of recycled trash parts that enable her to breathe fresh oxygen from a plant. 3 The Indian Parliament may have wanted her to go away, but she was clearly ready for the long run.

While the news is overflowing with accounts of girls and young women taking the world stage, boys have slowly followed girls in this new activism. Recently, more and more young men are  either joining the young women or creating their own initiatives. But where are the grown-ups? One young teen pointed out on the Kids for Peace Global website “We need help from the kids who came before us.” 4 Though their elders have disappointed them, this rising generation hasn’t stopped finding new supporters and compatriots in movements across the globe.  In fact, around the world, young people are rallying in places that are once again violent and risky. 5 Even as they had impact for several years in war zones like Colombia, drug lords have re-charged their terrorism making sex slaves and sacrificial lambs of the young in a decades-long wars that will not end. 6

But there is a particularly interesting and particularly powerful advocate who has taken the cause of suffering, enslaved and starving children as her personal crusade since 1999.  She is a royal. But you will not see her on the nightly talk shows or being interviewed by Oprah. She is both a mother and a grandmother. She speaks 5 languages fluently. When she fell in love, she and her lover stayed clear of paparazzi until her husband’s whole family urged her to become one of them. She founded and still leads the World Childhood Foundation, which has saved thousands of children in Africa and across the globe from lives of sexual slavery and starvation.

Her formal name is Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden. You might call her Sylvia but don’t call her “Sil.”

You probably know nothing about her.  But she has been working tirelessly to end child suffering without any fancy, international PR firm. The heart of her work is her tireless commitment to end the rape of girls and the violent recruitment of boy soldiers. Queen Silvia travels frequently to create safe houses and schools where children can be children and their families will not lose them to the violence of war. The queen is often quoted for her saying, ”I have founded an organization. My biggest wish is to shut it down soon.”  7 Her keen desire to conquer the demon of child slavery and child poverty is understandable.  The story is not a new one. And she is not going to let it go until it becomes an old one.  

In the US, we have often watched and waited for our young to take action that wider shoulders should have carried. We have left some of the toughest challenges for the young to handle themselves. Kid “Blink” Baletti age 13, led a NYC newsboys strike that had both the wealthy Pulitzer and Hearst publishing families in a shiver in 1899. Clara Lemlich, working in a dress factory in 1909 was facing down factory bosses when she was 12 years old and led a factory strike when she was 23. 8  Both these young people died young. But they had an impact and they raised the question we ask now –are reversing global warming, ending wars and child slavery and inequity of all kinds the responsibility of children?

The answer is no and yes. No, because they cannot do it alone. They need to gain the support of adults. And yes, because when they make the issue clear, they attract adult partnerships and funds. These are two of the leading points in Leslie Crutchfield ‘s brilliant and useful guide How Change Happens: Why Some Social Movements Succeed While Others Don’t. 9 Her blueprint guide for successful social change can work for all ages. She points to six success patterns that, used together, can create change:

1) A focus on grass roots work; 

2) A recognition of state and local efforts;  

3) A commitment to changing norms and attitudes as well as policy; 

4) A willingness to interact with adversaries; 

5) Accepting that business in not always the enemy and often can become a key ally; and  

6) Being “leaderful.”  — integrating a variety of people of different competencies to create a vital, working team

Crutchfield points out the power of Black Lives Matter  which welcomed new chapters and new regional leadership. She also salutes the students of Parkland High School who readily captured both youthful and adult energy.  She commends the LBTQ community’s choice to reframe their movement and discovered that millions more people could relate if they switched their motto from “rights” to the slogan everyone can relate to: “Love is Love.”  With that phrase they captured the hearts and mind of political, social and passionate youthful leadership.

This is how it should roll – including all possible parties in conversation and acknowledgement. It isn’t just a matter of “We’ve got a problem. You’ve got money to solve it.” With the children’s movements and others steadily rising we have a new impetus from:  “We’ve got a problem.” To:  “We want to solve this problem. Join us and we can solve it together.”

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Mary Ann Maggiore

Mary Ann Maggiore is a former Mayor of Fairfax elected on an environmental platform and founder of the Affordable Housing initiative and Youth Advisory there. At the same time Mary Ann served as the Executive Director of Girl Scouts Save the Bay serving 55,000 girls. Mary Ann's work has been honored by the CA Senate, CA Assembly, Working Solutions Community Innovator Award and the City of San Francisco. Today Mary Ann continues her commitment to youth as ED of LAUNCH!, Guiding Young People 18 to 30 to Meaningful Work.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. D Hudkins

    Some fresh faces beyond the well-known voices. Thanks for the introduction.

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