Writing: Kirsty Thomson
Illustration: Isi Williams
A few weeks ago, the oldest person in Scotland unfortunately passed away. She spent the latter years of her life living in my hometown, and I was lucky enough to have met her on a couple of occasions. Born in 1910, she saw the world change drastically in her lifetime: the Titanic crashed when she was two, the First World War started when she was four, the Russian Revolution took place when she was 7, Hitler became Chancellor of Germany when she was twenty three, the end of the British rule and subsequent partition of India took place when she was thirty-seven, Neil Armstrong stepped foot onto the moon when she was fifty-nine, in the year of her ninetieth birthday we entered a new millennium, and when she was one-hundred and four Britain had its first legal gay marriage. Now, as I reach the start of my twentieth journey around the sun, I cannot help but ponder what changes I have been a part of on our little planet. I hope that, should I reach 109, I may look back and marvel at all that I have seen and movements I have helped to shape, but even in the short 20 years that I have been here thus far, I already have a number of things that are worth reflecting on.
Whilst planning this article, the #MeToo movement and subsequent Time’s Up Campaign which gained so much media attention two years ago came to my mind first. Looking back over the last twenty years, it has been the most important movement in my lifetime, as well as being one that means a great deal to me. I needn’t offer too extensive a history lesson since it has become so widely recognised; many of us will be aware of how a tweet posted in 2017 by actress Alyssa Milano is made the phrase so popular. Those two words resonated with many hundreds of thousands of people and highlighted the need to address issues such as sexual harassment and abuse. The movement saw people from all walks of life come together to share their experiences; big celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and ordinary people alike felt able to share their stories and talk about how we might do better. Since the tweet was posted two years ago, there has been an evident shift in attitudes in terms of the way we talk about sexual harassment and consent. While there is still ground to be covered, the conversations that have arose as a result of the movement have helped to bring about real change globally.
Despite living in the UK, the #NeverAgain movement and the March For Our Lives which followed had a profound impact on me. As a student, it illustrated the potential young people have to bring about change. Though big names like George and Amal Clooney played a part in the fundraising efforts, the march itself was initiated by high school student Cameron Kasky, a survivor of the 2017 Parkland Shooting in Florida. The way in which an initiative that started with twenty pupils from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School grew to a march attended by millions across the world is indicative of the power the youth possesses. We live in an age where Millennials and those part of ‘Generation Z’ are subject to a great deal of criticism, but it is movements such as these that show the capabilities of young people in bringing about change.
As a student living in Edinburgh, I was able to witness the Students Strike against Climate Change which took place in March of this year. The movement against climate change has in recent years become more popular than ever; a subset of the greater ‘environment movement’, it is all too regularly in the media and a topic of debate. Over the last year, the movement has become more widely discussed following Swedish activist Greta Thunberg’s initiation of the school strike for climate in November 2018. At just 16, she began her activism with classmates by protesting outside of the Swedish Parliament buildings in Stockholm. The widespread news coverage from her initial and subsequent protests has brought the discussion of climate change into the classroom but more importantly into politics too. Over the last few weeks here in Scotland a bill was drafted before the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change which proposed to cut carbon emissions by 90% by 2050 and set a ‘net zero target’. The movement around climate change is perhaps the most current movement on this list, and similarly to that of the #NeverAgain movement, it again illustrates the power for change held by young people.
All these movements have offered me a sense of empowerment. In being able to participate, I feel as though I am part of a greater change in our society. The shifts in respective attitudes that have emerged as a result of each movement that has taken place over the last two decades suggest to me that we are headed, albeit at times slowly, in the right direction. Regardless of background or experiences, social movements have the capacity to bring people together in search of something better.