Four Young Leaders Explain Their Roles in the Global Democracy Movement

CASTREZZATI My age has helped more than hurt me. I am lucky because I started traveling around the world at a young age, which broadened my perspective early on. My experiences made me open to all people and their stories. They’ve been key to running the Open Chair Democracy Talks, which entail really tuning into what people are saying. One time I was listening to a Syrian refugee who told me that he didn’t know the meaning of freedom. It was vital that I had the open mind to hear his words.

PORTNAIA My age has helped me because I don’t have anything to lose by fighting for democracy. This makes me that much more forceful about getting my voice heard. On the other hand, when I am interacting with older people about democracy, especially as I did in Russia, they’re anti-democracy and look at me as a liberal and crazy Westerner. In Russia, the word “liberal” has a negative connotation.

DUTAILLY I’ve always thought of my age as a benefit because I learned about democracy as a young person and had the opportunity to represent my fellow high school students through the National Council [for High School Life, which aims to give French youth a voice] when I was just 14. My knowledge has only since grown.

What challenges have you encountered, or resistance have you met, along the way?

MANAR The lack of resources is a constant challenge, as have been disappointing encounters with politicians.

CASTREZZATI Most of what we do is try to convince older people in power to listen to us. Many of them struggle with changing their ways. This summer, for example, the Youth Think Tank spent time in a Goteborg suburb [in Sweden] known for its high crime rates and racial tensions. When we spoke to the city’s politicians about what they could do to improve the situation, they were resistant to most of our proposals. One of our ideas was to use a school building to bring together different ethnic groups for social events such as international dinners, but they wouldn’t hear of it. They told us that policies couldn’t easily change and that they have a way of doing things that they wanted to stick with.

PORTNAIA The Russian authoritarian regime has been my biggest challenge because it’s restrictive and doesn’t allow for freedom of expression. The lack of other youth to join the democracy movement with me in Russia has also been a challenge because they fear the consequences, even if they agree with the cause. I know of several people my age who are afraid of being kicked out of college if they express their democratic views. They consider that it’s safer for them to keep quiet.

DUTAILLY Growing up in rural France, I was far from the center of power, which is Paris. The city is almost a four-hour drive from where I lived, so I had to convince my parents to let me travel alone there at a young age to fulfill my responsibilities with the National Council. Also, I’ve given a lot of time to the democratic movement, and it’s been hard to balance that time with my school and social lives. They also need attention.

Source link