[OPINION] On being 'young enough' to lead a movement

It has been a year since COVID-19 entered the country, and youth-led movements have populated social media and the streets, speaking out against various incapacities and injustices, and mobilizing to uplift the communities most affected.

However, some of these young men and women have been accused of naïvete, getting asked the all-too-familiar “Bata ka pa; wala kang alam,” and the infamous “Anong ambag mo? Mag-aral ka na lang,” from older generations. Fellow youth have also slammed them, saying: “Resume padding lang iyan; college applications season na kasi,” and “Ang lakas maka-savior complex! Idealistic pa masyado.

But whatever others say, youth-led movements only continue to proliferate. Some probably are initiated by those who do not yet know enough and have not yet contributed to national development, or by those who just want to list down “founder” and “member” on their resumes and feel good about themselves for helping others. But perhaps the reasons they started these youth-led movements are not as important in the end, and that it is of greater import that they continue, and why.

This is not to say that we should turn a blind eye to questionable intentions; in fact, this prompts us to do otherwise. We need to guide young people to be critical of their own why’s, so that they ground their initiatives in a solid foundation, one that could withstand shocks and the test of time. A durable foundation – like a sense of duty – could allow them to succeed at effecting the positive social change they assembled for.

A sense of duty tells the youth that speaking out and mobilizing are ends in themselves, even as they contribute to bigger ends. Duty reveals the link between the personal and the social, urging the youth to consistently act with respect to themselves and to their communities — with an essential bias for the downtrodden. However, this is not something naturally occurring or can be forced upon young people by harsh commentary; this is something better passed on through guidance and experience.

Perhaps, then, it is a matter of how we critique. It is unhelpful to gate-keep volunteerism and activism. Instead, we can:

1. Raise the youth to be compassionate in their organizations and communities.

Sometimes, young leaders may become so dedicated to their ideals of social justice that they neglect to be just to their own constituents. If they do not value rest and due process, then they cannot cultivate a country that cares.

2. Help the youth understand that development is not just about survival.

Survival is the bare minimum for all of us, just as relief is only a temporary solution that treats symptoms instead of the whole ailment. Opening the youth’s eyes to ideas beyond basic needs and fundamental rights — ideas like capabilities — could radically shift their objectives and the means with which they pursue these.

3. Remind the youth that they cannot be a community's source of power.

What they can do is enable others to empower themselves. When the youth try to save communities by speaking for them or giving dole-outs, the communities do not get to represent themselves or come up with ways to improve their lives in the long-term.

4. Show the youth that social involvement and political action must come hand in hand.

Volunteerism must always be accompanied by structural adjustments, while activism must always be founded on on-the-ground relationships and experiences. Without one, the other stays uncatalyzed, the process incomplete, and the goal unrealized.

5. Steer the youth to go beyond collaboration.

With the complex, interdependent, and emergent challenges we face today, working closely with certain organizations, communities, and sectors is not enough. Forming a collective movement that recognizes and leverages their unique characteristics in the interest of development would ensure that the coveted social change would be comprehensive.

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When all is said and done, it is the youth that will inherit the world, and they need to have a say on what kind of world that will be. Now, they are reversing the narrative from “not being mature enough” to “being young enough” — they are young enough to be affected by the decisions being made around them, so they are young enough to participate in decision-making. They are young enough to be considered a threat to the status quo, so they are young enough to overturn the status quo. They are young enough to be idealistic, so they are young enough to transform their ideas into impact.

And it is only with the older generations’ guidance, their fellow youth’s solidarity, and their own ever-growing experience that young people can know enough, contribute enough, become leaders beyond their titles, and transcend their more personal motivations to favor ambitions for the collective. – Rappler.com

Angela Maree Encomienda, 20, is a third year college student taking up sociology and development management in the Ateneo de Manila University. She is the Founding Chairperson of The Initiative PH, a youth-led development organization, and the Founding President of Kalipunang Sosyolohiya at Antropolohiya, the home organization of sociology and anthropology students in the Ateneo.