Zuzanna Karcz

Generation Next: Zuzanna Karcz

When a near-total abortion ban was announced in Poland last October and massive women's protests erupted across the country, there was something new in the air. Poles have been taking to the streets against the illiberal Law and Justice Party since it came to power in 2015, but not since the Eighties, when Lech Walesa and the Solidarity trade union helped bring down Communism in the country, had the streets smelled so much like revolution—this time, a revolution led by youth.

Eighteen-year-old Zuzanna Karcz, a high school student from the southern town of Dabrowa Gornica, was actively involved in the protests. Unlike many of her peers then attending their first demonstrations, she is an experienced activist, but her story perfectly illustrates where this new generation—wanting to live in a different, more open, and colorful Poland—finds itself today.

Generation Next: Zuzanna Karcz

Karcz's activism began in primary school when she first joined the student council. In high school, she ran for president unopposed and helped overturn a requirement for girls to wear skirts at certain events before leading pupils and parents to support a nationwide teachers' strike in 2019. She also became active in a newly formed political party. "Heterosexuals were a minority in the youth wing of the Wiosna (Spring) party," Karcz jokes, explaining why, as an openly gay woman, she was drawn to the party, which launched in the spring of 2019. In between classes, she could be found at Warsaw press conferences or speaking at party conventions, but she realized quickly that party politics was not for her, at least at that point.

Today, Karcz insists "there is nothing wrong with being a politician" but prefers to focus on being an expert. She plans to study economics and law—a finalist in the national Olympiad in civics this spring, she can bypass the entrance exams for college. Thoroughly understanding the rules of the game, she argues, will later allow her to change them.

Recently, Karcz also founded Nowa Fala Aktywizmu ("New Wave of Activism"), an organization for youth activists to network, train, and exchange experiences. "People will always take to the streets," Karcz says, "but young people need to know what are the laws, how to deal with the administration and police, how to communicate in the media, how to talk to politicians—otherwise we cannot protect human rights."

Generation Next: Zuzanna Karcz

For many Polish youths, taking to the streets last fall was their first political action. They experienced the exhilaration of a common struggle and the sweet taste of making a difference, and many said they learned the importance of voting. "When I started out, I was considered different, political," Karcz says, "but now many people my age seem to understand why this is important. They share information about politics on Instagram, not even being aware it’s politics."

"We’re about ten years behind Western Europe, but we have movements of young people active on human rights, on women’s and LGBTQ rights, we have Fridays for Future on climate, it’s all happening," she adds. "Right now, it’s lame not to be political as a young person in Poland."

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Generation Next: Zuzanna Karcz

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