I was on the speech and debate team for 3 years in high school. I was, to put it bluntly, quite bad. I consistently struggled with public speaking anxiety and, while I loved my team and will forever value the exposure the activity gave me to world issues and performance art, I was by no means a stand out participant. Even so, I was entranced by the passion with which my fellow high schoolers attacked these issues and the awareness they demonstrated of the pressing problems of our generation. Being in the room this past week with students from Rome’s Manara High School, I was reminded of the intoxicating beauty of young people charged with purpose. The students were poised and informed, answering the questions pointed to them not only with accuracy but with insight.
With the way politics are developing both in and outside of Italy, being presented with this hunger for change provided a refreshing wave of pride for the youth of our world. The students delved deeper into the intricacies of issues facing Italy, which seem to be steeped in the worldwide populism fervor that we are seeing too, in the U.S. They took their answers further though, and emphasized with ardor the importance of our generation becoming more and more involved in politics– as they feel the generation ahead of them failed to do. They proposed further protest, citing a recent uproar against the populist movement in the traditionally left wing Emilia-Romagna region. Additionally, the students implored a continued presence of the youth voice in issues affecting them, specifically climate change and government accountability. They were proponents of Fridays for Future, a practice started by Greta Thunberg, a youth activist, in which students do organize mass demonstrations on select Fridays to advocate for climate legislation. Their dedication has once again emphasized to me that no matter how small the mechanism of involvement may seem, every effort to make a change has an important impact and reaffirms an increasingly dire sentiment: things must change, and we must be the ones to change them.
One of the many interesting aspects of the conversation was related to the idea of remembrance. As we spoke of the rise of populism and its relation to fascist ideologies, it was impactful to hear that many people in the conversation still had close memories shared with them of the detrimental impacts of Italy’s last bout of fascism. To be so aware of the dangers, to be able to converse with people that have suffered some of their darkest manifestation, and still, as a country, to be able to find truth in them again, is a terrifying thought. It forces me to wonder if these sentiments every really went away or if they are omnipresent, waiting for moments to emerge and recapture power. It is a sad thing to see the rise of this darkness in my own country paralleled worldwide, but to see youth so dedicated to dismantling it and demanding their voices be heard gave me a new sense of global hope.