Over the recent holiday, I attended an event as part of the 2019 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Symposium at the University of Michigan. I heard about the harsh experiences three women faced as they participated in a student-led committee to confront racism in the South during the 1960s. Someone asked how the civil rights movement became as powerful as it was, and one woman reasoned that the might of those oppressed during that time period was aligned with the spirit of the youth. In other words, these women claimed part of the reason why the movement began to peak in the ‘60s was because of how relentless and driven they, as young individuals at the time, had to be not only to gain their freedoms and their rights but more importantly to survive in a setting that favored white terrorism.

Today, there have been strides that mirror those of past movements in terms of collaboration among youth and the drastic nature of change necessary to find solutions to improve the quality of the environment. Since Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the House of Representatives committee on climate change would be revived, newly-elected U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., has made known her adamant support for the Green New Deal as a plan this committee can pursue to create an economy.

Driven by the stories and the mentality of people in America’s working class, Ocasio-Cortez has demonstrated herself as the standard bearer of this mentality for radical social and economic change. Referencing the New Deal pursued during the Great Depression and other major revolutionary plans that have been implemented during our history, she rationalizes the magnitude of this change to the economy towards improving the environment is necessary: “The only way we are going to get out of this situation is by choosing to be courageous. (The Green New Deal) is going to be the Great Society, the moonshot, the civil rights movement of our generation. That is the scale of the ambition that this movement is going to require.”

Ocasio-Cortez and other politicians have presented themselves as a beacon of inspiration for youth, while also contributing to the growth of the Sunrise Movement. Following the 2018 midterm elections, Sunrise activists made themselves visible to the public by occupying Speaker Pelosi’s office and demanding newly-elected congressional representatives begin to discuss and work on the logistics of the Green New Deal. In essence, the spirit of this organization encompasses the idea that everyday people are the ones affected by the decisions of their authorities and lawmakers and, therefore, are the ones who can validate their demands for appropriate actions from the government. As these activists assume the position of demanding better from the government in terms of environmental health, fair economic activity and just social standards, they are undoubtedly inspiring more youth to join them and more adults to gear their decision-making towards pleasing the majority that has become composed of youths.

In other words, the Sunrise Movement is working to collect supporters and make climate change a deciding factor in the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries, in addition to strides they have already made for awareness towards the necessity for the improvement of our environment. 

Past and present movements show that the spirit of the times during any era is carried and propelled by its young people. Today, the Sunrise Movement and their supporters are educated, level-headed and capable of addressing the concerns that we have about the world we are living in. We are the ones who are realizing that something has to be done to make a better future possible. We are the ones who are willing to work to make it happen. Just as Ocasio-Cortez mentioned in her contribution to Bernie Sanders’s national town hall on climate change, it is natural to fear change and to believe change on such a massive scale is impossible. However, today will be another example of the benefits that result from showing persistence and resilience in the fight for the life we want and the fight for demanding our authorities do what is right. 

As a youth today, my commitment to advocating for the improvement of our environment is exemplary of the spirit of the times. While I am constantly thinking about the purpose I will serve in this world as an engineer after graduation, I also think about the thousands of students here who will have an equally significant purpose to serve after graduation. Whether their majors direct them towards the medical field, public health, criminal justice, the natural sciences, mathematics, history, political science or even the realm of art, every student will have the advantage of belonging to a community that values progress in all sectors of our society. Because I know we and people like us across the nation and around the world will ensure history favors the bold, I have hope for the future of our society.

Kianna Marquez can be reached at kmarquez@umich.edu

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