Have you been keeping up with the news on Russia? Protestors are taking to the streets and parks, demonstrating against government corruption. Dozens turned into hundreds, which turned into thousands of protestors carrying specific signs of their disapproval of President Putin’s regime.
You might say, “That’s no big deal. This kind of thing has been going on for years.” And you’d be right. What’s caused the uproar and gained traction with news media today is that most of these protestors are kids! Young people who had to have their parents drive them to the location where the rallies took place. Young teens who felt strongly enough about their leaders’ failures that they endured difficulties to be heard.
And they were.
To date, thousands of young people—minors—were apprehended, and many were taken to jail by police. Photos were posted all over social media, and news programs reported young girls being pulled into a truck to be incarcerated. If you look at the faces of these students, most appeared as if they didn’t seem to mind. So what do we learn from rallies like this in Russia and from others like it around the globe?
Six Important Observations From the Russian Protests:
1. We should never discount the influence of the young.
This week’s protest isn’t the first time Russian students have stepped up and voiced their opinions on politicians. In March, thousands gathered and several risked being arrested and jailed—some of them barely teenagers. It made news headlines all over the world and got the attention of political leaders too. News analyst Feodor Krashenninikov said the real story behind Sunday’s wave of protests was the “emergence of a new generation of voices” that has played a role in protests over the last six years. Thanks to several factors (their demographic size, shared grievances, and the role of technology) youth today feel very empowered.
2. Young people have the energy to act that older people do not.
It wasn’t that no one over 25 was involved, but these young teens and twenty-something’s far outnumbered the population over 40 years old. They’ve grown up on this side of the Russian revolution, with the fall of communism—where they compare their government to others around the world—not the controlling socialist governments of their past. They’ve seen young adults in other nations rally to challenge governments, and they identify with those same ideals or values. Further, the young have the energy for such pursuits, more so than older adults who feel they must pace themselves, leaving energy for their job and personal responsibilities.
3. Our young will fight for ideals that elders gave up years ago.
They made signs and wrote up petitions, citing portions of the Russian constitution on them. In other words, they were holding their leaders accountable to what they promised to do. They stood and marched and spoke for hours at numerous protests this spring. It’s a new day in Russia. When I was growing up, no citizen in that land would have had the courage to stand up to the Soviet leaders. It may have cost them their life, and certainly their freedom. Today, the kids are bold and brazen. Ideals still mobilize them; they’re not jaded by the realities of everyday survival.
4. Youth can leverage the newest technology better than older generations.
The rally was organized through social media alone. There were no traditional tools like flyers, posters, and large planning meetings where adults organized a vote. No one knew for sure how many or who would show up for the demonstrations. It turned into thousands. And many of these Russian kids got up early to participate, they “built the bridge as they crossed it,” and the outcomes unfolded before their eyes. Having seen young Egyptians in Cairo overthrow a president and his regime six years ago, they felt they could do it too. Television and the Internet are the great equalizers. The young are growing up in a global economy and community.
5. Young people are more fearless and ready to sacrifice for a cause.
These young Russians have grown up with Vladimir Putin as their president, but they don’t have the same level of respect for him that their parents do. For these young people, “Putin’s not sacred,” reporters say. “He’s the old guy who shows up on their parents’ television sets. The Kremlin’s propaganda doesn’t work on them.” Like many younger generations in other countries, a natural respect for elders has faded. Teens and young adults ask, “why?” and “why not?” If they don’t receive a good answer for why things are the way they are, they’ll often reject the current “what.”
6. Movements usually begin with the young.
When we pause and reflect, we recognize that many—perhaps most—revolutions and social changes through history began with the young. Joan of Arc was a teenager when she led French knights into battle during the Hundred Years War. William Wilberforce was only 28 when he felt convinced he must fight for the freedom of slaves in England. And, consider the college students involved in the American civil rights movement of the 1960s. It was a young Baby Boomer generation who rallied to march, speak out, sign petitions, and gather for speeches and rallies.
In short, today’s young people feel empowered. Empowered by social media. Empowered by peers to disagree with adult authority. Empowered by an increasing expectation for democracy and equal rights around the world.
I believe we’re about to see multiple movements take place globally, led mostly by those under 25 years old. They will be rallies for human equality. Clean water. Healthy food and shelter. Are you ready to do more than just demanding their respect for elders, more than merely lecturing them in classrooms, or more than hosting youth meetings with games and silly prizes? I believe that deep down, Millennials and members of Generation Z want to do something that is very important and almost impossible. What they need are guides. Will you be one? Are you ready?
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