Our generation is not the first to question its ability to change the world, but recent graduate Vincent Herr (C ‘13) is on a mission to ensure that we are the last. Not yet three years out of his undergraduate education, Herr is both a student and an activist for European youth. A self-described “full-time idealist,” Herr and his colleague Martin Speer lead a team of fellow European authors and activists called the European Youth Collective (EYC). The EYC seeks to raise awareness of some of the great problems that European youth confront today. Recently, the EYC published a book called Who, if Not Us?, a collection of essays by 12 authors, including Herr himself.
Herr’s Principia career was merely a harbinger of his current success. At Principia, Herr not only excelled in his double major of history and sociology, but he also managed to serve as the editor of the Pilot and on the Public Affairs Conference board, among other activities. By graduation, Herr had achieved five awards: several scholastic awards for history and future studies, as well as awards for his work on the Pilot and his commitment to the community. After graduation, Herr returned to Germany, where he currently attends the Freie Universitaet Berlin (the Free University of Berlin) through a program that combines history and politics. He hopes to graduate with his Masters by March.
Herr’s first forays into the world of European youth activism were with his friend and colleague, Martin Speer. The activist duo have published, according to Herr, “articles, political manifestos, and proposals in various newspapers and online media.” The subject-matter is varied, but tends to focus on democracy, justice, and the pair’s special focus, European youth.
Herr first came to focus on youth issues when he applied for, and was given, alongside Speer (a fellow Principia graduate), a travel grant by a large German foundation called Stiftung Mercator. The grant allowed them to travel to fourteen countries around Europe, interviewing young people about their lives, identities, and opinions. That trip was transformative, and the revelations from their research inspired Herr and Speer to expand their efforts into the recently published book, Who, If Not Us?
Through their research, Herr and Speer discovered a growing crisis. According to Herr, “European youth is extremely concerned with their future. They often do not believe in their own personal ability to make a change or have some sort of impact on politics and society overall. This generation seriously lacks the vision and self assurance to become change makers and participate in political processes.”
The two activists were so alarmed by the helplessness they found, that they sought further funding from Stiftung Mercator and went to work. Herr says, “We chose most of our team members on our trip through Europe….the final group turned out to be very diverse and representing very different cultures and social backgrounds.” The resulting group of activists and writers, known as the European Youth Collective (EYC), is composed of twelve members representing eleven countries. Each activist/author brings a unique perspective as well as unique interests to Herr’s project.
The book itself is an innovative and intriguing answer to the hopelessness and lack of vision that Herr and Speer met on their first journey through Europe. Its narrative structure is that of a traveler moving across Europe by train with Herr and his fellow activists. The book seeks to empower European youth to take arms against their sea of troubles—challenges such as unemployment, racism, and the return of nationalist movements.
According to Herr, the book’s core chapter lays out a four step method for young Europeans to take control of their destinies. “First,” writes the EYC, “be critical and question everything you read, see, or hear. Second, recognize your fears and overcome them to become your best self. Third, identify your talents. And finally, take responsibility, preferably alongside similarly minded individuals, for the problems you identify.”
Since the team of idealists is primarily concerned with making a difference to Europe’s dazed generation, it has raised money for Who, If Not Us? through crowdfunding. An Indiegogo page allowed the group to raise $4,802 to pay for printing and shipping costs. Because Herr and his colleagues decided to self publish the book, they have been able to ship approximately six thousand copies, for free, to schools, refugees, newspapers, and other interested parties. This allows the group to spread their message to those who desperately need it most.
What’s next for Vincent? He will continue to seek ways to promote a sense of connectedness and agency in young Europeans and youth around the world. Currently, Herr is working on an idea called FreeInterrail, a free pan-European train pass that would allow youth to travel amongst European countries more easily, with the aim of promoting interconnectedness and overcoming stereotypes. At a more local level, Herr enjoys teaching Sunday school in Berlin.
Herr’s idealistic hopes for our generation, although decidedly Eurocentric at the moment, apply to youth across the world. He says, “I think that young people around the globe (not just young Europeans) struggle to find their place in life, to find purpose and be part of something bigger than themselves. I believe that our generation is full of wonderful ideas and visions, yet often times does not use them.” His mission is to empower a struggling generation to take charge of its visions for the future and make a tangible change.