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Greta Thunberg and Rosa Parks: Great Leadership Figures

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Greta Thunberg has established herself as the first world political leader born this century in her fight against climate change. Our current socioeconomic structure is driving environmental breakdowns which are imposing a detrimental inheritance on future generations. The younger generations are faced with the increasingly difficult task of achieving adequately sustainable societies while surmounting the challenges of the destabilisation of our current human systems in the process. Greta, a 17-year-old girl from Sweden, has become the voice of this generation, but her ascension wasn’t easy.

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Thunberg has overcome many challenges throughout her childhood. Initially, she fell victim to harsh bullying at school and her father began to feel dissatisfied with how the school was handling the situation. Upon further investigation, it was revealed after examination by medical personnel that Thunberg had an aggressive form of autism known as Asperbergs and was also diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (Guardian). When all seemed to be headed in a downward spiral, she had been inspired in one of her lectures in school, whilst watching a documentary about an island of plastic in the ocean (Guardian). She suddenly felt compelled to do all she could to save the environment going forward. Gaining an enormous amount of attention from people all around the world, mostly young like her, inspired by her speeches and protests, Greta admits that at times “When I am around too many people, I just shut off my brain, in a way to not get too tired, because I cannot take everything in. It’s hard to be the center of attention; I don’t like that. I have to tell myself it’s for a good cause. I am trying to say something with all this attention, to use my platform to do something good” (The Atlantic).

She started her journey in August 2018, where she began to skip school on Fridays to protest lack of climate change initiative outside the Swedish Parliament with a sign that read “School Strike for Climate” (TIME). From here, she started the “Fridays for Future” movement which encourages students worldwide to skip school to protest and demand that their environmental concerns be heard (CTV News). She has traversed the globe to join these marches and rallies the crowds with her inspiring speeches. In September 2019, over 4 million people across 161 countries joined her in this strike – becoming the largest climate demonstration ever.

Since then, Thunberg has gone on to address world leaders across many forums, most notably when she addressed heads of state at the U.N. Climate Action Summit. “How dare you?” she reiterated in her speech berating the assembled delegates, the video of which went on to become a viral sensation (TIME). To reach the summit in New York, she set an example by crossing the atlantic on a sailing boat rather than taking a carbon-heavy flight. “I’m doing this to send a message that it is impossible to live sustainably today, and that needs to change.” (TIME). She has met with many notable world leaders, including Barack Obama and the Pope in her quest to raise awareness and encourage action on the matter.

We believe that Greta would be the perfect collaborator to Rosa Parks since they both had an unbreakable passion for their cause from a young age. They both possessed, as John Milton would have described; “the unconquerable will… and courage never to submit or yield” (Milton). Like Thunberg, Parks relentlessly questioned the societal framework she had been born into. While Parks initially fought against hers by protecting black victims of racism and sexual violence accusations through her position in the NAACP, Greta took to the streets to protest in front of the Swedish parliament. Both believed in nonviolent action to advance their ideals. Another similarity lies in that Parks and Thunberg had very clear defining moments which shot them into the spotlight; the Montgomery bus boycott and “how dare you?” speech, respectively.

It also should be noted that both leaders are demographically fitting to unveil the injustices of their respective causes. For Parks, the unfairness of racial segregation in removing her from her bus seat was amplified by the fact that she was a middle aged black woman. Likewise, a young, autistic leader like Thunberg is effective in invoking urgency among the masses given the particularity of her cause.

While both leaders gave speeches to rally the crowds at marches and social movements, it is fair to say that Thunberg established far more of an image of herself as a public speaker. Parks ignited a movement with her courageous actions and provided an example to masses of black people to show adversity in the face of injustice. This gave a platform to leaders like Martin Luther and Malcolm X to encourage further activism through the power of words. We believe that Parks was in a position to be that leader and with the help of Thunberg, could have done so. If Parks’ possessed the same public speaking skills as Thunberg, she would be a force to be reckoned with.OK

As well as this, Thunberg seems to be far more willing to take centre stage than Parks. She has a relentless desire to make her voice heard. Considering how iconic Parks’ Montgomery bus moment was for the black civil rights movement; if she had the willingness and ability to take to the spotlight like Thunberg does, it could have served her well. It would have allowed her to develop the same messianic zeal that Thunberg seems to have, and which drives her mission to such great effect.

In conclusion, what Parks lacked in her conviction in public speaking and her eagerness to become a key figurehead in the black rights movement, Thunberg seems to have. We think that with her help and coercion, she could have become a pivotal character in rallying crowds and executing enlightening speeches that would have garnered attention nationwide. With Thunberg at her side, she could have pushed on to do even greater things as a leader.         

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