Spring Awakening tells the story of young people rebelling against a censorious society, in this article Noga Levy-Rapoport reflects on the intersection of the theatre sector, youth activism and the environmental movement.
When we tell the story of the young people of today, unwavering resolve and perseverance, and the determination to keep rebelling will not just be an interwoven theme: it will have been our entire reality. Consistently at the forefront of change, young people bring an energy, a hope, and an excitement, forever committed to the responsibility of bringing about a better tomorrow. As the clock ticks down on our planet, the struggle for climate justice is no different. The impending economic and ecological catastrophe that is the climate emergency is a tidal threat to our future, and we are spending every waking moment fighting for a liveable, equitable, sustainable society where we can thrive.
The shift that radicalised our generation began taking place long before the pandemic. Today’s youth have only ever known crises. Some of my earliest memories were attending anti-austerity protests with my parents, or listening to friends nervously talk about the racism they had experienced whilst Obama’s first election took place. There is no such thing as an earliest political memory, or conception of government and politics, of the drama of politicians playing out a façade to hide corruption and disaster; there is only the persistent understanding that as a generation, we have been forced to huddle together in the cold by the sidelines, watching haplessly as those in power make decisions that condemn our generation to a lifetime of volatile ecological crisis.
Yet this feeling of being helpless in the face of catastrophe is just not quite true, and it is exactly that hegemonic idea that there is “nothing we can do” that this era of change and collective empowerment amongst young people seeks to overcome. A future that embodies green energy, expansion of the renewable sector, justice and reparations for marginalised and vulnerable communities of colour and historically oppressed groups, the fundamental transformation of our social and economic systems into a society that is sustainable, secure, and equitable in the long term is entirely possible and entirely within our reach. Those are the stories we tell on stage, on screen, on social media – not just of devastation and calamity, but of hope – and that is a future totally within our grasp.
The rapid politicisation of young people has allowed us to map out a path for change, and act on it. We have done the only thing we can do: we organised. From the grassroots to the international level, we collaborated, co-operated, agitated, energised, educated, and mobilised millions in protest. From the 2019 school strikes against climate injustice, to Black Lives Matter demonstrations that swept the streets globally, to Kill the Bill protests that fought back against government policing and state oppression, to those of us outside COP26 in Glasgow just this month, young people are setting the agenda – and are making huge and necessary impacts as a result.
The Spring Awakening Cast in Rehearsals (Photography by Marc Brenner)
Against all odds, young people managed to speak up. We took a stand, and we broke down barriers, because we were able to create, and latch on, to a message from the global YouthStrike4Climate movement, that every young person should know, and it’s what needs to be ingrained in young minds from the very beginning; that we should never have to ask permission or defer to others in order to make a change and to act on what they feel is right. It’s a belief that the actions and futures of children rely on, particularly when we are faced with a dire ecological emergency. There has never been a time where it is more imperative that children around the world realise their own strength and take action for their planet. This starts at home; it starts with our communities, and the support networks around us; it starts with enfranchising young people to fight not just the climate crisis, but empowering youth like me to collectively reshape our own communities and ensure real change to our society happens securely, and from the bottom up to enable transformative systemic change.
The pandemic pushed even further this cosmic shift in the power of young people, because it coerced an inward look at ourselves. Stuck at home, alone, we took to mass communication, to the digital world, and were met with a continual influx of discussions, of questions, of conversation – the right foundation for any story that needs to be told. In questioning why so many of us were suffering from this crushing belief in an inability to force change – whether from paralysing eco-anxiety or from purposefully obstructive barriers set up to preserve the status quo – we were able to share amongst ourselves tales of youth action, of education, of what was possible. We could tell each other stories and preserve those in the endless archive of social media and digital channels, and then utilise those inspiring spaces and voices to funnel our own skills into action and initiative.
The story of youth resilience and dreams is a rightfully energetic and exciting one. It is one that I am proud to be a part of, and proud to keep telling and creating, mobilising and encouraging others to join this movement for change. But there are tough moments, too, and constantly being let down by those in power – COP26, for example, proved itself to be a miserable, abject failure. Young climate campaigners and school strikers desperate for a liveable future have been demanding a total shift away from the corporate tyranny of the fossil fuel industry, and for economic and social equity and justice for all – but in actuality, the UN climate summit, billed as the last best chance for global leaders to confirm former commitments to climate mitigation and raise the bar on promises of net zero to total systemic change and the elimination of fossil fuels from our economy, left us in the dirt. So how can we maintain our momentum? How do we keep picking ourselves back up from defeat, and persevere in our necessary ambition?
My answer brings us back to the theatre, where I truly grew up and had my own radical shift, in finding confidence in myself and in community, and faith in the power of creation and radical imagination. If we tell the right stories, if we exhibit optimism and strength, if we openly tell the truth about the corruption and dangers of the corporations we are up against, then we can ensure that enough anger boils over, and bring out millions onto the streets again and again. We can force the hands of governments into action. We can ensure we never give up the fight for equity and justice – for the climate, for racial, gender, migrant, and systemic equality. We witnessed terrible things during this pandemic, and as is our most basic human instinct, we came together in kindness, care, mutual aid, and support – as we always will, until we win. The movement will always continue amongst young people, because we have to keep up our faith in our enfranchisement and in our dreams of a better world. We have no other choice.
There is never truly a ‘last chance’. If this pandemic has caused us all to look inwards and to take greater care of each other and ourselves, to strengthen our resolve and our determination, then it is time to turn our faces outward in collective empowerment. We have much left to do, but the togetherness and kindness of our unity will ease our load. Such are the stories we can tell. Such are the realities we can make.
Noga Levy-Rapoport (they/she/he) is a 19 year old climate activist, student, award-winning campaigner, writer, and performer, organising under YouthStrike4Climate and demanding a Global Green New Deal. Responsible for hosting hundreds of thousands at Fridays For Future protests and organising demonstrations across the country, they use their online platform for youth empowerment and education on climate and political issues, as well as pushing for a greater intersection between the arts sector and the environmental movement.