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Young activists give the world a wake-up call

Two days ago, the world got a wake-up call. I’m not talking about a jaw-dropping fall in the FTSE 100, or the sad news of the passing of a pop sensation. I’m talking about a new global movement, which you’re going to be hearing more and more of in the near future.

On Tuesday, months of preparation came to a head when young people from 84 countries gathered outside government buildings to raise awareness of the issues that affect them most. Guyana, Sudan, Mexico, Yemen, Pakistan and Mauritius were just a few of the countries represented in the one-day network of peaceful type-ups, call-ups and show-ups.Placards and vocal chords at the ready, each group had its own unique demands for heads of government, corporations and local communities. From tackling youth unemployment to protecting the environment, from pursuing equality to bettering standards of education and investing in healthcare, the demands, say the organizers, are ‘specific, straightforward and achievable. Though they vary from country to country, we are united under a common goal: driving positive change in our communities, countries and the world.’

To understand where the Wake Up Call movement comes from, rewind to September 2011, when it was but the germ of an idea presented at the closing ceremony of the second One Young World summit.

The brainchild of Brit David Jones and South African Kate Robertson, One Young World describes itself as ‘the forum for young leaders to start leading’. I, along with 1,199 people aged 27 or under from 171 countries, descended on Zurich for what is the largest gathering of young people outside of the Olympics. We shattered the myth that young people don’t care, spending four days talking about how to solve the biggest problems facing the world today. There to share their wisdom, but primarily to listen to what we had to say, were the likes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Professor Muhammad Yunus, Bob Geldof and Jamie Oliver. At the inaugural summit in London in 2010, Geldof had one simple request: ‘I want you all to be unreasonable.’ More than happy to oblige, once back in their home countries, delegates soon set about working on projects relating to the environment, global health, the media, interfaith dialogue, leadership and global business.

Back to the Wake Up Call movement: within 20 minutes of its launch, hash tag #wakeupcall was trending worldwide on Twitter. To date, the various Facebook pages collectively have 28,565 likes and counting.

As events unfolded on Tuesday, the success stories began flooding in to Wake Up Call HQ:

In Nepal, activists called upon the Ministry of Local Development, Honourable Minister Top Bahadur Rayamajhi and Honourable State Minister Ghanshyam Yadav to give equal access to the disabled to hospitals, shopping malls, movie theatres and public buildings. Their aim was to enter the ministry and deliver the petition in person. A lack of disabled access meant the Minister had no choice but to leave his office and collect the petition himself. Upon receipt of the petition, he assured the disabled activists that their concerns would be addressed.

In Algeria, activists called upon President Bouteflika to change the constitution. They want presidency terms limited to five years with only one possible renewal. They also called for the government to pass into law the integration of youth in decision-making by the end of 2012. Their campaign, which consisted of emailing their wake-up call, was so successful that they crashed the presidency’s servers, and had to switch to faxing instead.

In Indonesia, young people demanded greater governmental transparency. In France, over 9,000 emails were sent to all 12 candidates standing in the forthcoming presidential elections. They were asked ‘to commit, upon victory in the election, to addressing youth unemployment as their first issue in office’. In China, young people are calling for the support of youth social entrepreneurialism.

Four out of five criminals who use knives escape a jail term. It was this shocking statistic which shaped the UK Wake-Up Call. The campaigners there chose to lobby the government to invest in frontline initiatives which tackle gun and knife crime. A massive boost to their campaign came in the form of a statement of support from Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband MP:

‘Politics can make a difference to daily life. It is not just something which happens in parliament. It is about whether we have a good school, how easy it will be for us to find a job, whether we feel safe when we walk down the street. That is why young people standing up on issues that matter to them is important. It is fantastic to see young people here in the UK and across the world taking part in this action.’

A cynic may well say that no real impact was had, that real change can never happen, and that though well intentioned, we are young, naïve and idealistic. I’d respond by saying proudly that we are both idealistic and realistic. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. With next to nothing in the way of financial support and without a celebrity endorsement in sight, we did what we set out to do, we gave the world the wake-up call it so desperately needs. And that was just day one. 

Top photo - Wake Up Saudi Arabia!. Photo by Wake Up Call. Bottom photo - Wake Up Nepal! Photo by Wake Up Call