Creating Waves of Change: The Pioneering Organizations Empowering Youth Activism
Young people are the future. Yet most members of older generations — which for our purposes means everyone born before 1995 — regard people in their teens and early 20s with emotions ranging from mild skepticism (at best) to outright disdain.
It’s natural for older folks to feel like young people should listen and learn before speaking out. And there’s something to be said for the wisdom that only comes with age. Basically every culture reveres its elders, at least historically. (Whether that’s still the case is a question for another time.)
But young people have wisdom too. Maybe more importantly, they are quite literally the future. They’re making plenty of noise. And they deserve to be heard.
With that in mind, I’d like to highlight six nonprofit organizations empowering youth activism right now. They’re building movements that could stand the test of time and effect real change in the world — if us older folks would only listen.
As a student at the NYU Stern School of Business, I interned for the then-CFO of DoSomething.org.
It was one of the most important experiences of my college years. It taught me that with the right systems in place, idealistic people can have a measurable impact on the real world.
Nearly a decade on, DoSomething.org continues to make an impact on the communities it serves. Its voter engagement teams have registered more than 400,000 young people to vote for the first time. Its cleanup crews have removed a staggering 5 million cigarette butts from parks, sidewalks, and other public spaces. Its clothing recycling program is closing in on 20 million pounds of clothing kept out of landfills — enough to clothe nearly every New York City resident for a day.
The Re-Earth Initiative is a global youth-led environmental justice nonprofit focused on awareness and action around climate change.
Its leaders aim to pierce the echo chamber that pervades the climate justice movement (and other environmental justice movements) to create spaces that are more welcoming and accessible for people who don’t consider themselves (or speak the language of) full-time activists.
Its work is incredibly important for anyone who believes that we won’t build a more sustainable future without getting buy-in from everyone with a stake in the planet’s future. Which is everyone who calls Earth home.
March For Our Lives
March For Our Lives is a youth-led organization working to reduce and eventually eliminate the human toll of gun violence. As its name indicates, it centers real-world actions — peaceful marches and sit-ins, especially — that draw attention to the problem and its potential solutions.
Like the other successful youth movements on this list, March For Our Lives cares less about political purity than about achieving realistic, lasting change. That’s what makes it so appealing to young people who don’t consider themselves activists.
Coalition Z is a student organization building bridges between Generation Z and those in positions of political power. Which, in case you haven’t noticed, are still mostly Gen X and Baby Boomers.
Although its main goal right now is to empower Gen Z and give younger Americans a voice in the political process, Coalition Z recognizes that Gen Z (and the emerging Gen Alpha) will eventually control the levers of power in the United States and elsewhere. So even as it works to draw attention to young people’s needs today, it’s building a pipeline for aspiring political leaders to rise.
Alliance for Youth Action
Alliance for Youth Action is a network of smaller youth-led organizations advocating for political reforms, environmental justice, housing policy, reduced economic inequality, and other causes that young people care about today. It’s also a leader in first-time voter registration that magnifies the efforts of local get-out-the-vote groups.