| By Josephine Campbell |
This has been the summer of marches—and not just the variety played on the sousaphone. U.S. Supreme Court decisions; contentious primary elections; and ongoing concerns about the environment, inequality, school violence, and human rights, among many other issues, have prompted people around the world to paint slogans on signs, put on T-shirts announcing their positions, and rally en masse.
Children may wonder what all the excitement is about or ask what demonstrations can accomplish. They might be familiar with the concept of raising awareness about an issue through events like STOMP Out Bullying days at their schools. Some students may know about young activists like Greta Thunberg, whose efforts to raise awareness of global climate change have resonated with young people around the world, or the students from Parkland, Florida, who founded March For Our Lives to protest gun violence in 2018. Gale In Context: Elementary offers a good explanation of activism in its overview Activist Groups. It covers activist group goals such as advocacy for various segments of society or efforts to change laws or policies. It also explains that organized activist groups have been around since the nineteenth century. Another helpful overview is Being an Activist, which looks at some of the topics and actions of activists such as Thunberg.
Students might be interested in activists and organizations that address issues they care about. Gale In Context: Elementary offers biographies of many individuals and groups, with versions for struggling and proficient readers. One such topic is the environment. They may like to read about Xiye Bastida, a young Chilean Mexican activist, and some of the climate organizations she supports, including Earth Guardians. Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is an Earth Guardians activist and organizer, an Indigenous American whose parents were involved in forming the organization. Activist Jamie Margolin was inspired by the 2017 Women’s March to cofound Zero Hour. The organization held marches in Washington, DC, and around the world, and organized a youth climate summit in 2019.
Canadian activist Autumn Peltier has worked to raise awareness of water-crisis issues. She grew up on First Nations land where the water wasn’t safe to drink, and has encouraged political leaders to enact legislation protecting water. Mari Copeny is another young activist who has taken her concerns about water safety to world leaders. Known as Little Miss Flint, she has advocated for clean water and new water infrastructure for the people of Flint, Michigan, after many children were sickened with lead poisoning.
Another climate change action organization is the Sunrise Movement, which was founded in the 2010s by college students who wanted to change U.S. laws. They were advocates of the Green New Deal, a law to bring U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to net zero. It was proposed by legislators, including U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in 2019.
Many activists and organizations are concerned with legislation related to social justice issues. The Equal Justice Initiative, which was founded in 1989, protects people’s rights in courts and jails. Among its goals are criminal justice reform work, such as improving conditions in jails and ensuring fairness in the courts. Disability rights activist Jennifer Keelan began protesting when she was six years old and was arrested for the first time when she was seven. She and other activists were responsible for persuading lawmakers to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act. Keelan became famous at age eight when she participated in a 1990 demonstration in Washington, DC, and was photographed crawling up the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
Hebh Jamal is an activist concerned with human rights. She fights for equality for everyone, notably Muslims, and also wants schools to be more diverse. Sameer Jha fights for equality for the LGBTQ community and works to make schools safer for these students. Jha founded an organization and wrote a guide to help teachers make classrooms safer for LGBTQ students. Gavin Grimm, a transgender male, sued his school district to be allowed to use the boys’ restroom. It took many years, but he won the case. This was also a victory for other transgender students.
Students might also want to read about legislators who help make policy about issues they care about. Kamala Harris, a daughter of immigrants, was a prosecutor and served as a U.S. senator before she was elected vice president along with President Joe Biden. Tammy Duckworth, who is also an immigrant, is a disabled veteran and a U.S. senator. She has worked to pass laws to help veterans and disabled people and to protect the environment. Julián Castro’s parents were activists. He has served as mayor of San Antonio, Texas, and as secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Pete Buttigieg is a veteran and former mayor of South Bend, Indiana. He became the first LGBTQ member of a presidential cabinet when Biden appointed him secretary of the Department of Transportation. Stacey Abrams is a voting rights activist and founder of the organization Fair Fight Action. She was the first Black woman to be elected Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia.
Summer will soon be over, and little feet will be marching off school buses and into classrooms in no time. As they learn about activists little older than themselves, youngsters may choose to take a stand on an issue that holds meaning for them.