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Youth rose up in 2012 — now let's keep the momentum going

Written by Think Forward Staff
Wednesday, 09 January 2013

Flip through the pages of our mainstream media, and you're left with the impression that most young people are lazy, spoiled brats who can't accomplish anything.

The Globe and Mail tells us that today's university graduates are unprepared for "the real world" because we've been coddled since birth. The National Post says Baby Boomers will continue to hold the most sway over public policy because - unlike their Millennial kids - they have "perseverance and a strong work ethic." And low voter turnout among 18-34 year olds is often attributed to young people simply not caring about politics.   

But in 2012, youth across Canada defied these stereotypes by making their voices heard loud and clear.  

It started with the captivating student strike in Quebec, where students took to the streets to stop Jean Charest's Liberals from raising tuition fees. The seven-month strike and associated Casserole protests not only led to the defeat of Charest's government in September 2012, but also inspired student groups in other provinces to take similar action against rising tuition fees.

The Parti Québécois responded to the strike by scrapping the planned fee hike on their first day in office, and Quebec students are currently building a national movement to oppose Stephen Harper's mean-spirited agenda heading into the 2015 federal election.

In British Columbia, students, youth leaders, and members of Occupy Vancouver joined with First Nations, environmental and labour groups, and concerned citizens to fight the creation and expansion of tar sands pipeline and tanker projects in the province.

Under the banner "Defend Our Coast," the protestors planted a 235-metre black banner — the same size as the tankers that are moving dirty oil through the B.C. coast — on the lawn of the provincial legislature as an act of civil disobedience. The demonstration succeeded in raising awareness of the dangers that oil pipeline and tanker projects pose to First Nations communities, wildlife habitats, and public health, not only in B.C. but throughout Canada. Public opinion is now strongly opposed to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, and the project is unlikely to be approved by the B.C. government.

Then there was Ontario high school students' inspiring show of support for their teachers, who came under attack from the McGuinty government when it forced a labour contract on educators and effectively stripped their bargaining rights with Bill 115.

In direct contrast to the teachers strike of 1997, when then-premier Mike Harris fuelled anti-teacher sentiment by pitting educators against parents and their children, students sided with their hard-working teachers and noted that they were "fighting for the (labour) rights of everyone" in the province. While Ontario's Education Minister ultimately used Bill 115 to impose a two-year contract on teachers, the Liberals plan to scrap the bill because of the intense public backlash.  

In all of these cases, young people rose up and formed alliances in "the real world" to affect public policy, demonstrating that we do in fact care about politics. The key challenge will be to sustain this momentum as our federal government attempts to further destroy our environment, disregard our rights as citizens, and dismantle the public services that we value. But with young people continuing to play significant roles in progressive movements throughout the country — from Occupy to Leadnow to Idle No More — chances are high that we'll see more positive, youth-driven change in 2013.



If you could choose one thing that would make your job and/or work environment better, what would it be?