In Susan Cooper’s book, The Dark Is Rising, the main character, Will Stanton, is turning eleven. One of the important elements of the story is that, with his eleventh birthday, Will comes into his power as one of the Old Ones, who form a circle of protection around the earth from the Dark. As Will comes into his power, on the eve of his birthday, there are signs: small animals are frightened of him and his presence causes static in radio and television waves. People who had not noticed him before now see him differently. He is coming of age and coming into his own.
In our time, as youth come into their adult power, there are also signs. As with Will, people who had not seen them previously begin to take notice. They cause disturbances in their environment and they may startle the people around them. But, like Will, they have tests they must face, challenges they must endure, and responsibilities they must accept.
In our time, one of the responsibilities of a young adult is to work with all other adults to build a better world. The young people I know take this responsibility very seriously. They want good, fulfilling work and, like everyone, they want to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
Look at what young people are undertaking around the world.
There are many youthful climate activists: Greta Thunberg of Sweden is 16 – maybe one of the best known young climate activists. Autumn Pelletier, a climate activist from the Wiikwemgoong Unceded Territory was 14 when she started to champion water conservation and indigenous water rights. Mari Copeny was 8 when she wrote to then President Obama about the Flint, Michigan Water Crisis.
Malala Yousafzai was 14 years old when she began her human rights work, in particular her work to protect women’s right to education.
Schuyler Bailar was the first openly trans male to compete on an NCAA Division I swim team. He competed for Harvard.
Sherenté Mishitashin Harris of the Narragansett Tribe is an indigenous Two-Spirit youth activist and champion pow-wow dancer. Both his/her (Sherenté’s chosen pronouns) parents were champion pow-wow dancers and s/he has followed in both her parents’ dance traditions, breaking significant gender barriers in indigenous dance. One only has to look at Sherenté dancing to see a young person in command of power.
The young activists around the world coming into their power are inspirational for me. The Black Lives Matter activists show us that racism must stop. The protesters in Belarus may be fought by police and the military, but you can see that they are in their fight for the long haul.
Of all the powers young people have, of all the powers they can exercise, there is none more potentially disruptive than their ability to vote. Right now, there is no more important vote in a democratic state than that in the United States. For those Americans despairing that their democracy is lost, it is worth remembering that probably 15 to 20 million youth who can vote in 2020 couldn’t vote in 2016 (based on census data).
As these youth come into this important power to vote, I hope lawmakers up for election are paying attention. Perhaps there isn’t static on the radio or television, but there is disruption in the streets.
The youth I know are determined. They are not sexist, racist, homophobic or transphobic. They have suffered from our misguided example of being all these things and they want a different world.
They are changing the world, even if we will not. Will we help them?