Over the past few months, groundbreaking events have changed our perspective on United States domestic and foreign policy. The massive protests of the Black Lives Matter movement impacted our community and the world, renewing interest in how local mobilization can improve lives globally. We have also seen how youth activism shapes the social change agenda. Foreign policy builds off of local and youth-led mobilization. 

Reorienting U.S. foreign policy to better address root causes of violence, legislators signed the Global Fragility Act (GFA) into law this past December. According to Alliance for Peacebuilding, “The GFA will create the first-ever comprehensive U.S. government strategy to tackle and prevent spiraling global conflict.” The first step in implementing this act is developing a strategy. U.S. federal agencies must collaborate alongside civil society to develop a Global Fragility Strategy (GFS) due to Congress this September. The GFS will delineate a 10-year strategy to address fragility in specified priority countries and regions. 

Proper implementation of the GFA would benefit Americans’ wallets. By focusing on reducing and preventing violence in fragile countries or regions rather than solely responding to ongoing conflict, American taxpayers would save money. According to research by the Institute for Economics and Peace, $16 could be saved in conflict response for every $1 spent on peacebuilding and conflict prevention. The ability to save money through conflict prevention and peacebuilding should be one major draw to ensure effective implementation of the GFA. 

Successful implementation of the GFA also means empowering youth leaders to spearhead local peacebuilding efforts. The world’s youth population is over 1.8 billion, with 90% in impoverished or fragile states. However, they are often excluded from political power and the decision making process. Including these youth leaders can have far-reaching results. For example, a USAID-funded education initiative in Somalia, where the majority of the population is under 30, led to a 50% decrease in willingness to participate in political violence. Through the GFA, similar programs could be established in other fragile, conflict-prone states. By empowering youth populations in fragile states, we can elevate their voices.

This attention to youth peacebuilders is particularly relevant to the Philadelphia community and surrounding areas, as youth activism has long energized the area. In 1967, students staged a walkout to demand racial equality in the classroom, resulting in their demands being met after facing extreme police brutality. Two prominent youth-led organizations now lead the city towards racial justice. Philadelphia Student Union and The Youth Art & Self-Empowerment Project advocate to end the school-to-prison pipeline and the practice of trying young people as adults. Similarly, West Chester University is no stranger to youth activism, with the demonstrations occurring on campus surrounding issues of free speech and Black Lives Matter. With a strong tradition of youth-led organizing, Philadelphians should support inclusion of local youth leaders in the GFS. 

As a member of STAND and The Student-Led Movement to End Mass Atrocities, inclusion of local youth peacebuilders throughout implementation of the GFA is incredibly important to me. Youth Black Lives Matter Movement leaders in Philadelphia and surrounding areas epitomize the importance of youth involvement in peacebuilding initiatives. Historically, youth catalyze social change and peacebuilding in their communities. Through their own lived experiences, youth peacebuilders can ensure that the strategies used in their specific region are both appropriate and inclusive, making prioritization of their leadership in the GFS imperative.

Proper implementation of the GFA depends on its full funding. Congress must appropriate adequate funding for prevention of and quick response to violence while supporting stabilization efforts in fragile countries. I urge Senator Bob Casey, Senator Pat Toomey and all Pennsylvania representatives to support the appropriation of $50 million to the Complex Crises Fund, $200 million to the Prevention and Stabilization Fund and $25 million to the Multi-Donor Global Fragility Fund. 

Let us build on the activist momentum in our districts and learn from the Black Lives Matter Movement and their incredible work changing U.S. domestic policy. Let us encourage youth to get involved in our student-led GFA Campaign. Finally, let us support the youth-led campaign by calling and writing our legislators in support of a GFS that includes full funding and attention to local youth peacebuilders. 

 

Jenna Walmer is a second-year in the M.A in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and M.S. in General Psychology. jw940915@wcupa.edu

 

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