This past weekend we saw an estimated 1 million people turn out for the March for Our Lives protests in cities across the nation, with Washington D.C. leading the pack. The protest was organized by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the weeks following a mass shooting that killed 17 students, teachers and faculty members. The shooting took place on February 14, just 6 weeks ago.
The student organizers of the march are teenagers, most of whom do not even have the right to vote yet. However, in the short time since they became victims of gun violence, they created a unified protest and magnified their voices in an impressive way. These teens have made one thing clear: they are involving themselves in this issue and advocating for change by whatever means works best, even if voting is still outside of their rights. Even if it takes time and money. Even if it interrupts the normal plans and routines of a teenager’s life. Even if it takes an emotional toll and walking outside of your comfort zone.
The energy and momentum that these young people have quickly generated surrounding an issue that directly affects them is truly impressive. Social media and broadcast news is just the tool. The real fuel is the authenticity of their message delivered thoughtfully and passionately. What is particularly interesting about this student-led effort is that it contradicts the picture of young people as “disengaged” and “unaware.” Pundits are questioning whether or not their efforts will translate into a lasting movement that results in real change starting with the voting booth.
These questions are valid because, historically speaking, young people are the least engaged voters compared with older citizens. The breakdown of voters by age group since 1980 is shown below. It paints a picture of a nation that becomes more engaged in elections as they age.
I am confident that our students’ cry for smart gun control and holistic approaches to address mental illness and disengagement will result in change. This generation has awakened to the reality that these young people are the ones who will most profoundly feel the lasting impact of the laws that are put into place while they are teens and young adults.
The student activists of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School realize this more than most and their unity amid diversity is inspiring. They have sparked interest among their peers across the nation in becoming voices for change. They have shown their peers that it is possible to act on important issues in their communities and beyond. They have also demonstrated to citizens of all ages the critical importance of getting informed, engaging in debate, getting organized and taking action to shape the future of our schools and the future of our nation. Change starts with changing minds. I applaud our young people for setting an example for all of us; for reminding us that the power to achieve change starts first with an idea, followed by a commitment of one’s time, energies and passion to make a difference.
March 27, 2018
Written by Tom Sullivan
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