Gen Z is the generation of protest, but we don’t always get it right

“Now is the winter of our discontent,” wrote Shakespeare. It might have been 430 years ago, but it encapsulates the zeitgeist of the 2020s quite well – particularly the feeling of restless indignation that has come to define Gen Z.

Yet in the very next line, Shakespeare’s winter of discontent was “made glorious summer”, much like Dickens’ “worst of times” was intertwined with the “best of times”. History shows us that times of societal restlessness – whether that be anti-monarchical Elizabethan England or revolutionary France – are always temporary.

Students march in the School Strike for Palestine in Melbourne on November 23.Credit: Getty Images

This is difficult to remember in the 2020s, an era termed the “age of uncertainty”. It is even harder for my generation, who have never known anything else. The crises of our time – climate change, gender inequality and cost of living – are ongoing and do not seem as if they will be resolved within our lifetimes.

One of our rare constants is, somewhat paradoxically, a perpetual sense of impending doom. So it is surely a testament to our collective mental fortitude that this feeling has resulted in activism rather than ennui.

The biggest names of our generation – Malala Yousafzai, Greta Thunberg, Chanel Contos – aren’t influencers or gamers. They’re activists who have brought attention to their respective movements and influenced politics, but more importantly, they’ve taught Gen Z the power of protest. They’ve proven that individuals can make a difference.

I see our generation as the generation of protest. While activism has existed forever, what other generation has children as young as eight taking to the streets to fight for climate action?

Protesters hold a watermelon flag in Melbourne at the School Strike for Palestine rally on November 23. Watermelons, which have the same the colours as the Palestinian flag, are used as symbols of Palestinian resistance.Credit: Getty

Yet seeing media coverage of the recent school strikes for Palestine and climate change has led me to reconsider the world’s perception of Gen Z’s protesting, particularly through rallies and marches. The public may sometimes see these protests as evidence of our generation’s political engagement, but youth activism is increasingly being dismissed as a wave of aimless anger.

Much of the public did not know that the school strike for Palestine was calling for a ceasefire and an end to Australia’s military aid to Israel. Its specific aim was blurred by its reputation as an expression of naive radicalism; it was even construed by some as a pro-Hamas protest. In a recent interview with online publication The Paris End, Ivy, a 16-year-old organiser of the strikes, expressed frustration with hateful comments associating her with Hamas, and those who dismissed her as a “political pawn”.

Teenage protesters are seen by some commentators and sections of the media as uninformed bandwagon activists, radicals, or both. Such perceptions might explain the increasing criticism of youth protests. They might still attract attention, but who are they appealing to? Adults often ignore the individual aims of each protest, seeing ignorant petulance instead. Politicians can be equally dismissive, seeing teenagers as puppets of parties and movements, rather than informed people. Even I, as a teenager, feel alienated by the uncompromising intransigence of most youth strikes.

A pro-Palestinian protester interrupts the Carols by Candlelight concert in Melbourne on Sunday.Credit: AAP

But it would be unfair to criticise the youth for the misinterpretation of their protests.I venture that this is a mistranslation of intention. What feels like passion when you are a protester can seem like aggression when you are an observer.

Protesters are disruptors, and creating the discomfort that attracts attention can also repel people. The Carols by Candlelight interrupters upset the public via their approach, not their beliefs; by being controversial, protests can gain attention but lose support.

Protests are also not platforms for debate. Taking a yes or no stance, choosing Israel or Palestine, limits the opportunity for critical conversation, which is crucial to gaining wider support.

Sometimes, the act of protest overshadows the issue. For example, the recent strikes generated more discussions about school absenteeism than the war itself.

This is where it becomes important to distinguish between what rally-style protests can achieve, and what they can’t. Strikes might garner attention, but that’s not the same as offering a solution.

Security staff remove a protester who interrupted Carols by Candlelight in Melbourne on Sunday.Credit: AAP

Consider the US civil rights movement. Malcolm X generated outrage, but Martin Luther King Jr discussed solutions with politicians and organisations. That coalescence of protest styles reached an extraordinarily broad range of people.

So Gen Z must widen our idea of what a protest is. We need to practise multifaceted activism – not just striking, but penning opinion pieces, writing to MPs, and organising conferences to gain much wider support.

If I had organised an “anti-strike strike” instead of writing this piece, the public would have seen my stance but not the rationale behind it; a reasoned argument can be far more effective than a wall of senseless anger.

Now is the winter of our discontent. But winters have been braved before; we need to take a step back from our fear and face this storm with calm fortitude. Our current approach to protesting exposes us to the risk of being dismissed as naive, angry children. By shifting from generating hysteria to outlining solutions, we invite the world to listen to us. And that’s when we’ll achieve something great.

Saria Ratnam is a Melbourne high school student and writer who does volunteer work for several environmental organisations.

The Opinion newsletter is a weekly wrap of views that will challenge, champion and inform your own. Sign up here.

Copyright © 2023



Brisbane Times – Latest News Gen Z generation of protest get it right

Tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

About Abu Hamza

Abu Hamza is member of Business Bee Staff

Comments are closed.