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(Birthe Lunau/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
(Birthe Lunau/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

How do I keep young activists from being demoralized? Add to ...

THE QUESTION

My three young children have been involved in the fight to stop Canadian asbestos from being exported to the developing world, after their grandfather died from mesothelioma (asbestos-caused lung cancer). How can I encourage them when the government sides with the asbestos lobby instead of the Canadian Medical Association and World Health Organization?

THE ANSWER

Fighting for political change can be frustrating, especially when your motivation is so personal.

You can have a compelling story, line up thousands of signatures on a petition, rally friends, strangers and the media – even have irrefutable evidence to support your case – yet still some governments refuse to act.

The good news is that change does come.

Share stories with your kids of other young people who have made a difference, such as Ryan Hreljac, of Kemptville, Ont., whose fundraising since the age of 6 has brought clean drinking water to more than 700,000 people, or Winnipeg’s Hannah Taylor, who has raised more than $2-million for homeless shelters since she was 5. Earlier this month, we saw Hannah, now 15, talking to Manitoba’s Premier about new shelters before running off to driving lessons. Or Jean-Dominic Lévesque-René, who at 10 launched a campaign to ban the use of pesticides on lawns and golf courses in his hometown outside Montreal after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His efforts contributed to the Canada-wide movement that has banned cosmetic pesticides in more than 170 municipalities.

Persuading a government to act is like nudging any seemingly immovable object: It will budge only if you keep pushing and bring lots of friends.

Your best friend is the media. Keeping your issue in the spotlight builds awareness among the voting public, and the politicians will keep reading about it in their daily news briefings. Your children’s personal connection is a compelling aspect of the story, so make sure you exhaust every media outlet in your area to maximize your audience.

Then use the other campaign tools at your disposal to generate the next media hit. For example, if you collect enough signatures to have your petition presented in Parliament by your MP (minimum 25 signatures), or if your Facebook group reaches 1,000 members, send out a news release. Every milestone is another opportunity to keep your issue in the government’s face.

Meanwhile, build relationships with politicians and other stakeholders who are open to your cause. An MP can table formal motions and legislation, build support among caucus colleagues and other MPs, include articles in the mailings they send across their riding, question government ministers in committees and during Question Period, and may one day be in the cabinet to make the change you wish to see.

Friendships with others in common cause also reassure your children that they’re not alone. Share your news clippings and other successes with groups such as Ban Asbestos Canada, Right On Canada and Prevent Cancer Now.

Finally, celebrate the small victories – starting with your success in having this question published. You’d be surprised what reading a news article during a celebratory pizza dinner can do for team morale.



Craig and Marc Kielburger co-founded Free the Children. Follow Craig at facebook.com/craigkielburger and @craigkielburger on Twitter. Send questions to livebetter@globeandmail.com.

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