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Hell-Raising Humanitarians: What Young People Can Learn From Historical Youth Movements

What can “the most dangerous woman in the world” teach us about youth leadership?

In 1902, Mary Harris Jones was a force to be reckoned with. A labour rights activist and community organizer, “Mother Jones” is a pioneer figure for making significant progress towards child labour laws in early 20th century America.

Jones made a presence in hundreds of strikes across the US, establishing herself as a prominent left-wing organizer, supporting workers in industries such as mining, steel, rail-road and textiles.

In 1903, Jones and her ‘Children’s Army’ marched to the front lawn of President Roosevelt’s vacation home in Long Island, New York, in a historical event known as the “March of the Mill Children”. Dirty, disheveled, maimed and injured children marched with Mother Jones to revolt against working conditions that would make the health inspectors of today cringe.

Decades later, the the Fair Labour Standards Act of 1938 was passed, banning child labor, setting a maximum work week to 44 hours, and the minimum wage to 25 cents an hour. After two months of widespread media attention, Mother Jones and her Children’s Army fulfilled Jones’ mantra - “I’m not a humanitarian. I’m a hell-raiser”.

Nowadays we’d like to think of the young change-makers of today as humanitarians and hell-raisers.

Whether it’s fighting to end child labour and harsh working conditions, or it’s standing up for marriage equality, ending poverty, wiping out police brutality or marching against sexual abuse, young people everywhere are standing up to assert their voices, building the world they wish to live in for decades to come.

If the Children’s Army taught us anything about social movements, it’s that young people are the ones who set the path for the future. And while nowadays we’d opt to get our message across through hashtags and crowdfunds, it’s the progressive ideals and energetic campaigning that characterise all youth movements, and that hasn’t changed in over a century.

Inspired by Nick Moraitis at Australian Progress.

Written by Renae Verboon

Want to join a powerful youth movement? Be a part of The Stakeout next month!