The Global Political Youth Movement: A Fight for Rights, Justice, and Democracy

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Hong Kong, Dec. 8, 2019, (Photo By Danish Siddiqui, Via: ABC News)

Each generation is placed in uncharted waters and at the frontlines of human innovation and progress. Born into and grown under a society created by their parent’s generation’s ideals and accumulated knowledge, this very foundation of societal norms and beliefs propels and motivates the youth to act in direct opposition to them. With retroactive foresight of their predecessors’ shortcomings, political activism continues to push forward on a pendulum swing in the perception of progress, justice, and normality.

Today, there is undoubtedly a resurgence of political interest and participation from the youth around the world. A majority of this activism can be found centering around individuals’ rights and justice for the people. Now more than ever, we see the youth of countries carrying the burden of their ancestors while paving the way for the next generation to come. Nationalistic tendencies and conservative ideals are becoming less popular with the youth of many nations, who understand the shortcomings of past movements by earlier generations. By pushing for progressive, anti-nationalist, and pro-democratic political ideals, the youth of countries are formulating what they want society to be, not what it was.

Born out of necessity and tiredness for traditional justice and governments of their countries, and amplified by interconnectedness and awareness, the voice of the youth is actively taking control of and directing the narrative-future of their countries.  This is a direct reaction and projection of the current times and shifts in the socio-cultural beliefs of people. We are in a new era of political swing and activism that is being led internationally by the youth of countries.  

Unlike the predominant opinion held and argued by many, this is a global youth movement and not a movement exclusive to the Western world. Western Mainstream-media sources tend to focus on the western world as the catalyst or leader of implementation efforts by youth political movements. A prime example of this would be the highly publicized conflict concerning race issues in the United States within the recent anti-Trump and anti-nationalist narrative. Whilst these events have been a key example of the current increase in political participation from the youth in the Western world and America specifically, it is not fully inclusive of the wider global youth movement.

Stereotypically ignored and perceived as being more resistant to progressive ideas and political activism compared to the West, it is important to highlight the crucial and leading examples of this global youth movement in Asian countries. In these countries, individual liberty and autonomy for human rights have been and are continuing to be the focal points of staggering high levels of engagement and prioritization by the youth. With this broader scope of examples reaching across the globe, it becomes painfully evident that these movements are not singular in nature or exclusive to an individual country. Instead, a complex shift by youth around the world has risen to directly oppose previous nationalistic and oppressive movements. Simply only referencing the Western examples of these movements ignores the global nature of these movements and creates an incomplete narrative in origin and purpose.

In Thailand, ongoing protests that participated in and organized by students are directly challenging the current military imposed monarchical government that seized power in the 2014 coupe. While protests are not new to the country, the increased participation by the youth has pushed these protests to a new level. The youth grew up seeing other protests not accomplish their goals and now believe that the government has to be completely disbanded and replaced with a true democracy to accomplish the rights and protections that they deserve, and those previous movements fell short of.

With a no-holds-barred approach, these protests are outright Anti-“Monarchy” and are a democracy movement entirely. These students’ outcries are within an environment with little ability to exercise freedom of expression and amidst the disappearance of citizens, unlawful arrests, and the killing of people who speak out. Calling for a new constitution, human rights, and the creation of democracy for the people, the youth are carrying the future of progress of Thailand on their shoulders for themselves as well as the next generations to come.

In Hong Kong, college-aged students have been fighting for years in direct defiance of nationalism and oppression, and China’s attempts to “absorb” Hong Kong back. This absorption would mean loss of freedoms, liberties, and a reduction in the level of sovereignty that generations before them have enjoyed. Recently the clock has begun ticking faster, and with the implementation of the security act by China, the tightening of Hong Kong has become increasingly more severe. The act is largely viewed as a direct attack on the freedom of speech, and the bravery and participation of the youth opposing the Chinese government’s rule and their claim to Hong Kong show the shifting feelings of responsibility for creating change. Students know that no one will come to save them. The older generation was unable to fully accomplish an effective change to prevent this situation with their past movements, and the perception of it being a future problem has left it up to the youth to lead. This inevitable loss of identity and freedom has finally reached its boiling point.

Students are continuing to protest in the streets and in colleges, which are being turned into imagery reminiscent of warzones. Even when being attacked by police, tear-gassed, starved of resources, arrested, and forcefully disappeared, they are fighting for democracy and to save any sense of normalcy. While opposing the national oppression and loss of rights, liberties, and justice for the people, Hong Kong is calling for democracy and help from international governmental bodies. The international community has failed Hong Kong and has left the youth there to fight for their freedom alone. The youth of the nation is politically involved and protesting out of desperately trying to hold on to their voice, something that all youth movements can globally resonate with.

Thailand and Hong Kong are not alone in this global increase in the political participation of the youth. Korea’s youth is fighting for gender equality while facing gender violence and the historical absence of women’s rights. Back in the Western world, America’s youth are facing racially charged injustices toward black people, indigenous peoples, and immigrants. The length of the list is surreal, going on and on, highlighting the truly global nature of this youth movement. Under the presence of severe injustice and painfully real threats, the youth are at the frontlines of this new era of political swing and activism. What realistic change these countries can expect to accomplish relies heavily on the government’s willingness to adapt and their ability to gain international recognition. However, this generation has an unprecedented level of cooperation, access to information, and the ability to act afforded to them by the interconnectedness produced by globalization and tools like social media. While countries globally might be actively working to silence these voices, the youth has never been louder and more organized. The question that remains is: what society and world will they create? And what will be left for the next generation to change?

About Matthew F. Fleming 7 Articles
[Former Senior Writer for NOVAisa] Fleming holds a Master’s Degree in Global Affairs and Policy from Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, where he specialized in dual research areas: International Security and Foreign Policy, and International Law and Organizations. During his studies at Yonsei University, Fleming was selected to receive funding to pursue a second master's degree at Keio University in Tokyo, Japan, serving as a dual-degree representative between Yonsei University and Keio University. The culmination of this academic endeavor was the successful defense of his thesis, titled “U.S.-Japan-ROK Trilateralism from Obama to Biden: Expanding on Theoretical Norms of Understanding Through Aspects of Building Trilateralism and U.S. Involvement in Japan-Korea Conflict Issues.” This achievement earned him a Master’s Degree in Media and Governance from Keio University, specializing in Global Governance and Regional Strategy. Fleming possesses a background in mechanical and substantive copyediting, academic research, and editorial writing. He has interned at distinguished institutions, including the East Asia Institute—a prominent think tank based in Seoul—as well as the academic journals managed by the Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies: the North Korean Review (NKR) and the Journal of Territorial and Maritime Studies (JTMS). His research interests include the evolving U.S.-Japan-ROK trilateral relationship, democracy and human rights movements across the Asia-Pacific region, and the growing prioritization of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific within U.S. Foreign Policy.