Young Activists Discuss the Role of Gen Z in American Politics at IOP Forum | News

A panel of young activists discussed the role young people play in American politics at a forum held Tuesday night at the Harvard Institute of Politics.

The panel – moderated by Alicia J. Menendez ’05 – featured longtime IOP polling director John Della Volpe, as well as climate activist Sophia Kianni, gun control advocate David M Hogg ’23 and 2021 Time Magazine Kid of the Year Orion M Jean.

The group discussed efforts to encourage young people to participate in politics and activism.

In an interview after the event, Hogg stressed the importance of youth activism, but said it can often be “very hard work”.

“It’s exhausting work,” he says. “It’s especially exhausting for the people who need help the most in the first place.”

Hogg said many young people are discouraged by certain aspects of the American political system, pointing to the filibuster.

Kianni, who is the U.S. representative on the United Nations Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, pointed to institutional flaws that she says make youth work an uphill battle. She criticized big oil and gas companies, which she said benefit from the perception that individuals are responsible for solving climate change.

Individual-level change will do little to address climate change, she said.

“It’s really up to our government to hold these companies, to hold these corporations accountable and accountable,” Kianni said.

Kianni also called on politicians to do more to implement the changes young people are advocating.

“It’s really easy for politicians to use us as material for their campaigns, to do photo ops with us, but I think the next step is to work with us,” she said.

Della Volpe said Gen Z is often misunderstood by older generations as “a group of socialists who hate America.”

“No generation has faced more trauma, more quickly in their young lives than this generation,” he said.

Panelists offered mixed opinions on the future of American politics.

“I don’t look too bright right now,” Hogg said in an interview. “I think there’s a lot of pink romance about ‘Oh the kids are going to save us’.”

“Children are not going to save us,” he added. “We are going to save ourselves.”

In an interview after the event, Jean, who is 11, offered a more positive outlook.

“We’re going to be the ones who can spread kindness and make a political difference, and vote, and all those different things, so that we can grow into the world we want to be in.”

Melvin B. Baillie