Showing a presence on the street

Tens of thousands of pupils are demonstrating for more climate protection. A youth researcher explains why young people in Germany are so engaged in civic activism.

Fridays for Future: youth protest influences policy.
Fridays for Future: youth protest influences policy. dpa

Professor Mathias Albert is a youth researcher at Bielefeld University. In our interview, he analyses the reasons for the youth protest movements in Germany and their chances of success.

Professor Albert, young people in Germany were long thought to be fairly uninterested in politics. But Fridays for Future has changed this picture. Where does this political engagement come from?
In a society that is ageing as a result of demographic changes, young people are under considerable social pressure. In addition, they are facing an uncertain future due to the possible effects of climate change. The younger generation no longer wants to wait for politicians to act – they want to take responsibility for their future into their own hands.

Youth researcher Mathias Albert
Youth researcher Mathias Albert Philipp Ottendoerfer

What is the formula for success of the Fridays for Future movement?

Fridays for Future is attracting huge media attention because of the general interest in climate change. The movement is already celebrating its first successes, which is lending it further buoyancy. The discourse on climate change is being transformed at undreamt-of speeds thanks to the demonstrations – consequently, the young people realise that their commitment is having some effect.

Politicians will react to Fridays for Future.

Youth researcher Mathias Albert, Bielefeld University

What role do social media play when it comes to mobilising young people?
Social media help with both organising demonstrations and mobilising people. Their potential should not be underestimated, yet they should not be regarded as the central factor, either. The success of Fridays for Future is primarily due to people not only clicking Like on Facebook but actually showing a presence on the street.

Is this youth engagement influencing policy in Germany?
The communication strategy used by Fridays for Future is very interesting. To all of the demands that the demonstrators make to politicians, they add the statement: “We are doing this although we know nothing will change”. As such they are increasing the pressure on politicians finally to act rather than simply talk. I have no doubt that politicians will react to this. The only question is how the political parties will implement the demands.

What else are the young people demanding?
The young people want politicians to listen to them. They want to have more of a say in society.

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