The Activist Generation

Words by Tess Astle 
Art by Emma Lucas

Generation Z gets a bad wrap. Millennials get typecast as the lazy and entitled generation who talk in hashtags and can’t go a moment without their phone. Older people continue to complain about our vanity and apathy, worrying about our lack of political engagement and self-absorption. The truth is a lot more hopeful.

Now I know we have been responsible for some terrible things. We will take the fall for those lip syncing vids on Tik Tok, the whole dab trend and that one time we started the Tide Pod Challenge. Despite our obvious limitations, Gen Z is primed to save the world.  

Gen Z is more diverse than any generation before. 53.8% of young Victorians do volunteer work, a quarter takes part in environmental activities, and 42.6% get involved in student leadership. Aussies aged 18-24 are more likely to say Australia should increase business opportunities for women (66 per cent) and say asylum seeker boats should not be turned back (58 per cent). We are anything but apathetic.

By the time I was 18 my biggest accomplishments were graduating high school, coming second in cross country grade seven and learning how to poach an egg perfectly. While they are all noble achievements, none are going to be saving the world anytime soon.

By the time Greta Thunberg was 16, she had started a global movement. In 2018, Greta stood outside the Swedish Parliament every day for three weeks demanding the Swedish government reduce carbon emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement. Her sign read: School strike for climate. After the three weeks, Greta continued to strike only on Fridays and she inspired school students across the globe to do the same. Now more than 1.4 million students have joined her protests and at least 270 cities have had their own School Strike for climate. As if that wasn’t enough, Greta has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, been featured on the cover of Time Magazine, and named the most important women of the year in Sweden. She is now considered the “greatest threat” to the fossil fuel industry. In our own city, Greta motivated an estimates 20,000 students to desert their classrooms and shut down the CBD calling for urgent action on climate change. Chants of “hey ho, hey ho, fossil fuels they have to go” echoed in the streets.

It’s not just the environment being revolutionised by millennials. Young Australians are also making extraordinary positive changes. Let’s look at the 2019 Young Australian of the Year, Baker Boy. Danzal Baker is a rapper, dancer, artist and actor, as well as a role model for Indigenous youth. At 22, Baker Boy has released five singles, been named the winner of the Triple J Unearthed’ National Indigenous Awards Competition and performed with the likes of Yothu Yindi and Dizzee Rascal. Growing up in the remote Arnhem Land communities of Milingimbi and Maningrida, he has always wanted to use his platform to help young Indigenous people and encourage them to embrace their culture. His music features both English and Yolngu as a way to honour and respect his culture and mark the importance of Indigenous language. He uses his music as a way to educate. He educates non-Indigenous people on the history of the first Australians and educates Indigenous people how to be heard and be leaders.

Georgie Stone just turned 19. She is also an Australian actress and transgender rights advocate. While most ten year olds were busy with grade five, Georgie was the youngest Australian to receive hormone blockers. In 2011 Georgie’s parents applied to the Family Court of Australia seeking permission for puberty blocking medication. This case became the basis for the 2013 decision to remove the required court orders to access Stage 1 treatment (puberty blockers) for transgender children. This partial victory changed the way doctors were able to treat transgender children across Australia. Georgie continues to advocate for the removal of the Family Court from medical decisions of trans teens. She was awarded the 2018 Victorian Young Australian of the Year and in 2017, was made the official ambassador of the Royal Children’s Hospital Gender Service. At the same time, Georgie was also school captain. No biggie. 

I think it’s fair to say that Macinely Bustson is a genius. Named 2018 NSW Young Australia of the Year, Macinely is an 18-year-old inventor. In grade 6 she invented a spoonge–a cross between a syringe and a spoon– that delivers exactly the right amount of medicine. From then on she has invented a device that keeps garden snails away without the use of poison and a solar power system that filters dirty water so that it is useable. While all of us struggled to stay alive during high school, Macinely came up with her own research projects and developed life changing inventions. The device that earned her the NSW Young Australian of the Year Award was SMART Armour. It stands for Scale Maille Armour for Radiation Therapy and is a device for breast cancer patients undergoing treatment. The idea is that the armour is able to shield the breast not being treated from excess radiation by up to 75%. This device is soon to be implemented in hospitals across Australia. Beyond her inventions, Macinely is a constant inspiration and role model. She has a particular passion for STEM and believes that there is no better investment than in people.

This is only a small collection of amazing young people in Australia and across the world—but you get my point. Generation Z is more than capable of fixing the world.

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