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Punk kids at London Climate Strike
Jack McLear (right) and their friends at the London climate strikeillustration Jack McLear

I went viral while protesting for climate action

A photo of my friends and I was shared all over the internet – we’re here to tell you Generation Z is a rebel force both IRL and URL, and punk isn’t dead!

In our column TEEN ANGST, a different teenager makes their views heard on Dazed. Jack McLear is a 17-year-old student and self-proclaimed ‘doomer zoomer’ who went out protesting with their friends for climate justice. An image of Jack and their friends went viral. Here, Jack has produced an illustration of the protest pic that spread online, and writes about how social media bolstered their activism, and how Generation Z are changing what rebellion looks like.

The world has, in recent times, seen the rapid growth of rebels, a rise than runs parallel with our generation’s clever use of social media. Not only has social media and the internet allowed us the ability to find and understand information we aren’t immediately shown in the mainstream media, but it also allows us to communicate with each other and organise. The current climate justice movement and strikes, and the young people turning out for them, prove this. 

The original elements of protest still remain – like-minded friends meeting with a mission, signs and chants, and of course the need to make a difference. With social media, we can make this much larger – protesting as a young person in my generation is fuelled by the online world. Would Greta Thunberg still be alone outside the Swedish parliament building with her sign had #FridaysfortheFuture not taken off, instead of joining four million other students around the world? 

I wouldn’t have ended up at one of the recent climate strikes had I not been on Instagram. It was on this Friday that a photo taken of my friends and I went viral – our signs and our message were posted everywhere, from tweets liked by hundreds of thousands of people to American Communist groups, and Polish meme pages on Facebook. It has been overwhelming but so empowering to be able to have my voice heard throughout the world.  As this photo has been spread, mine and my friends’ dress sense and style has been commented on by many people. It’s been incredible to see people understanding that punk is very much alive and well and that we are still protesting. To have adults who were punks in the 70s compliment me and tell me that they’re glad punk isn’t dead really shows the power of counterculture – we’ll always be here. It has been a dream since I started protesting to spread a message, and it has finally happened.

Young people have the power – the power of communication, of information, and advertisement. The ability to write a Tweet, to post an Instagram story or a blog about an action. It remains that young people truly understand how to harness the power of online activism. We’re not leafleting or relying on word of mouth anymore – our power is in Facebook events, Whatsapp group chats and DMs.

In the age of constant surveillance, we still have to think of the concerning issue of police forces and governments spying and documenting our movements. How can we best organise? A good example, I think, is the situation in Hong Kong – organisers and rebels are keeping each other informed in new and innovative ways and exploring apps outside of the norm that mask numbers, IP addresses, and other identifiers. A vital part of rebellion is organising quickly and safely.

People may see “online activism” as a way to get clicks, ridiculed by people older than us and latched onto by companies desperate to get the business of Gen Z with their marketing ploys. We’re at a crossroads for how much we can depend on advertisements and those above us to spread our message, when they have a financial and darker political agenda behind them. As part of Generation Z, I believe social media has been the best thing for us as rebels. Living so much of our lives online has helped us get to the next step in communication, and therefore, the next step in resistance, rebellion, and anarchy.