The Daily Tar Heel
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Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

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The Daily Tar Heel

Attacking the messenger instead of the political message is dangerous to democracy. If you feel the need to criticize a teenager’s looks, you have already lost the debate.

The number of grown adults who are mocking Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is embarrassingly high. Instead of listening to what she has to say, critics state that she is mentally ill or an actor, and that she is being manipulated by her parents and the international Left to further their agenda. 

She is also being ridiculed for not being an expert in the field and being too young to have an opinion. When Thunberg held a speech in front of the UN about how our planet is literally dying, she was being told to smile more and stop being so hysterical.

The fact that Thunberg’s appearance is the center of attention in this debate shows that the opposition has run out of good arguments. Even if you disagree with that statement, you must admit that the accusations are quite strange. If it were true that Thunberg is a paid actor, it would not really matter because the important part is that people listen to her. 

Also, Thunberg may not be an expert on climate change, but none of the real experts have managed to get people to care in the way that she has. She is simply advocating for people to listen to and act on the science, and it's irrelevant who the messenger is.

The personal critique comes from people that disagree with her message. There is nothing she is saying that isn’t scientifically correct, but in this day and age, saving the planet has somehow become a politicized issue. Examples of harassers include Donald Trump and Fox News.

This is not the first time that youth activism hasn’t been taken seriously. The March for Our Lives protests that started in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting in 2018 received similarly unwarranted pushback. Attention was on the activists themselves and not their message. They were also teased for their age and appearance, and many accused them of being "crisis actors," just like Thunberg.

It seems that whenever the far right disagrees with a message they manage to construct a conspiracy theory about it, which delegitimizes everything that is being said. This tendency is harmful to public discourse and democracy itself.

It seems it is very often the young people whose activism is silenced or drowned-out by criticism. Why are the opinions of young people not taken seriously? We've seen this happen on our own campus, where some 50 years of student activism to take down Silent Sam was met with mockery and suppression of students' demands by adults.

This tendency of not listening to young people is rather ironic. Thinking back to when the older generations were Greta's age, they were protesting during the height of youth activism and catalyzing important historical change. 

The peace protests during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement in the sixties were all youth-initiated. Those movements are some of the most respected, and they were organized by members of the very generation criticizing young activists today. 

Throughout history, it has always been the students and the young that fight for change, because they are the most affected and the strongest.

So listen to what young people have to say, and act like the adult that you are — stop mocking children. The message that Greta Thunberg is delivering is what we should be debating, not the age or appearance of its messenger.

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