Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev encouraged thousands of young people gathered in Vancouver for We Day 2011 to make a difference in an era of global crisis.
“I have faith that your generation will have the strength to cope with the challenges of our time and to build a society of which we will be proud—a happy society,” said the Nobel Peace Prize recipient.
Speaking through a translator, Gorbachev made the comments to a cheering crowd packed into Rogers Arena today (October 13).
We Day is organized annually by the international charitable group Free the Children, cofounded in 1995 by brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger. Organizers say the goal of the We Day events, held across the country, is to empower youth.
In his speech today, Gorbachev highlighted the global problems of climate change, hunger, poverty, armed conflict, terrorism, and the troubled economy.
“The global financial crisis that was caused by the greed of a few people is being resolved at the expense of ordinary people, ordinary people who are not to blame for that crisis,” he said.
“Also the world is still heavily militarized. There is a real threat of a new arms race. When I was beginning my years of leadership we wanted to stop that mad arms race and it looked like it wasn’t possible but we achieved that.”
“And now there is still the danger of a new arms race and it could be even more dangerous.”
But he told the crowd of students to not despair.
“We are living in a global era. The global world is testing us. It’s a very demanding world. It demands a lot of all of us. And that’s one reason why I respect so much what you’re doing here because it is so much related to this global world,” he said.
“Together we can achieve a great deal. You can change the world for the better. I believe that and I wish you success.”
Other We Day Vancouver speakers included B.C. premier Christy Clark.
“We Day is about what you can do if you get together and decide to make a difference. But where does that begin? It begins with one. Right? One person,” she said.
Clark pointed to the legacy that B.C. native Terry Fox left for cancer research.
“For 143 days he got up every day and ran a marathon and Terry Fox made a real difference in Canada and he made a real difference in the world and he was just one person,” she said.
Meanwhile, Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson talked about the fight to end homelessness.
“There’s a lot of homeless youth on the streets of Vancouver right now and that’s something that we’ve got to change together,” he said.
“We’ve got to focus our efforts and work together and lift up everyone who’s stuck outside by circumstance, by bad luck. We’ve got to turn their lives around and help them.”
Actor Mia Farrow talks about her commitment to activism
Free the Children cofounder Craig Kielburger talks about the We Day movement