On Saturday millions of demonstrators took to the streets in US cities and around the world in support of tougher gun control laws. The main March for Our Lives rally right here in DC was the biggest, drawing an estimated half a million people demanding new laws and an end to gun violence in the wake of the February 14th school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Like many, I watched in awe as young people so eloquently lifted their voices to say “enough is enough.”
As I sit here and reflect on the past weekend’s events, what I found most moving was that despite the fact that young people today are often framed in the media as apathetic, disengaged, and removed from civic action, the hundreds of thousands of young people who took to the streets showed that is in fact not the case. They are more engaged than ever, and most importantly their civic participation can provide us all with important insights.
This is not the first time in our nation’s history that we have witnessed young people taking up the mantle and leading the way when it comes to challenging the system. Youth have always been integral and often key actors in powerful social movements, such as the Civil Rights movement, LGBTQ movement, environmentalism and environmental justice, the labor, antiwar, and immigrant rights movements, and more. In each of these cases, young people took part in many ways, including through the use of the “new media” tools of their time, which they used to create, circulate, and amplify movement voices and stories.
This past weekend showed us that young people are not only taking the lead, but also importantly, adults are becoming authentic allies. In the past adults have been encouraged to serve as facilitators of youth voice, inserting it when and where appropriate. Today young people are making those decisions, with support from adults who educate and mentor instead of lead and drive their activities.
Beyond bringing about legislative change, I do hope Saturday’s March for Our Lives teaches us that we should continue to recognize and respect young people as potentially powerful social movement actors, and allocate resources to support, amplify, and extend their impact.
For more on the importance of youth voice, check-out our recent blog series.