4 times student activists changed the world

Some of the world’s most important social movements owe their success to student activists who took action in support of a just cause. ONE Campus recognizes and admires the passion and power young people have when fighting for something they believe in. When you use your voice, you can change the world, and history is brimming with examples of students taking action. Here are four highlights of student-led advocacy campaigns from around the world.

Civil Rights Movement – United States, 1960s [1]

Photo Credit: Cewatkin/ Wikimedia Commons/ CC-BY-SA 3.0 The statue memorializing the “Greensboro Four,” NC A&T students who started the sit-in that sparked a movement.

Students and youth leaders fueled the American Civil Rights movement from the very beginning. Six years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation of public schools to be unconstitutional, four black students from the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College sat down at a “whites-only” lunch counter in Greensboro, NC to protest the racial exclusion of blacks. The moment sparked a movement. A few days later, the students returned to the same lunch-counter with 300 more students, and soon activists were staging sit-ins and other demonstrations in nearly every major city in the South. The actions of those young black leaders and countless others who followed their example paved the way for the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, spurring progress where some thought impossible.

The Velvet Revolution – Czechoslovakia, 1989 [2]

Photo Credit: MD/ Wikimedia Commons/ CC-BY-SA 3.0 Demonstrators gather around a memorial for those killed in the November 17, 1989 Prague Protest.

The Velvet Revolution was a non-violent, student-led movement protesting the one-party government of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. Following the brutal suppression of a student demonstration in Prague on November 17th, 1989 (International Students’ Day), mass protests and strikes erupted across the country, many occurring on college campuses. Just seven days after the original protest, the top leaders of the Communist Party resigned due to the incredibly successful movement. Throughout the next month, the one-party state was dismantled, and Czechoslovakia held its first democratic elections since 1946 the following year. The event has gone down as one of the most successful non-violent transfers of power in world history.

Anti-Apartheid – South Africa, 1970-94 [3]

South Africa had an official system of institutionalized racial segregation from 1948-91 commonly known as apartheid (“apartness” translated from Afrikaans). During this period, black South Africans faced discrimination, political disenfranchisement, and even serious political violence. The beginning of the end of apartheid was marked by the Sowetu Uprising—a series of protests led by black students in the Sowetu township of South Africa. An estimated 20,000 students participated in the protests in response to the Afrikaans language requirements for black students, a language associated with white oppressors. The protestors were met with severe police brutality when they were fired upon with tear gas and bullets, killing an estimated 176 protestors. The tragedy led to an increase in demonstrations in South Africa and sparked anti-apartheid movements internationally. University students in the United Kingdom, United States, and other countries joined the movement and held demonstrations of their own, urging their universities to divest from South African institutions that supported apartheid. The fight against apartheid continued until apartheid legislation was abolished in 1991 and South Africa marked its first multi-racial elections.

The Electrify Africa Campaign – United States, 2013

Mass protests and demonstrations tend to occur when other advocacy techniques fail, but students across the United States recently showed that grassroots advocacy campaigning can work. The fight to end energy poverty began in 2013 with a three-year advocacy journey. ONE Campus members campaigned alongside hundreds of other ONE volunteer leaders against the absurdity of energy poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, asking their members of Congress to support the Electrify Africa Act. For more than three years, ONE Campus members raised awareness on the quad, met with their members of Congress, and generated nearly 200,000 individual actions in the Electrify Africa Act. This bi-partisan bill, which was signed into law on February 8, 2016, aims to provide more than 30,000 megawatts of cleaner, more efficient electricity to 50 million people living in sub-Saharan Africa. Nevertheless, college students continued the fight against energy poverty, and electricity is now being delivered to key areas in sub-Saharan Africa under the Power Africa project!

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[1] http://www.library.ncat.edu/resources/archives/four.html

[2] http://www.ibtimes.com/what-velvet-revolution-peaceful-movement-overthrew-communist-czechoslovakia-lives-25-1724963

[3] http://www.sahistory.org.za/topic/june-16-soweto-youth-uprising