What are these young protesters doing?

By Jeff Smith

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I don’t want to write about gun control. I don’t want to sadden people about the lives that were lost earlier this year.

I do think it is important to bring up youth and how they have been more vocal about their feelings on safety in schools more than anything else.

More than a million students participated in school walkouts in more than 3,000 schools across the country on March 14.

The students were protesting for Congress to take action to ban assault rifles, require universal background checks for gun sales and to pass a gun violence restraining order law that would allow courts to disarm people who display warning signs of violent behavior.

The students are trying to make a difference. They took it upon themselves to not wait for a time when people would want to listen. They are making people listen.

Students on the national news was pretty uncommon before the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Student news is usually reserved for local papers and smaller regional TV stations.

But we have seen Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg on countless television programs as well as Cameron Kasky challenge senator Marco Rubio. Kasky even wrote a guest article for CNN. 

The teenage activists are just not letting the world forget what happened. Generation Z is unafraid. Phones have become their tools and if they can’t find support through adults they find it through a mass of other students online.

The students have been able to garner more support online. Through social media, students have been able to share strategies and stories with people across the nation. Generation Z is the generation that has been criticized for spending too much time online and being too self-absorbed. There is a certain “urgency of collaboration” that has come about from a tragic event. Tomi Lahren, a Fox News contributor, even applauded the students for their use of social media in expressing their views. A student in New York has said that social media basically started the whole gun reform movement in America.

Millennials might have become numb to seeing school shootings. We were little when the Columbine High shooting took place. Many of us were in college when the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting took place. We didn’t have as impassioned a response as students today have. It might be due to the fact we didn’t have to practice active shooter drills growing up. Or maybe it is because education has changed too. Instead of having students worry about grades and jobs in school the students who started the #NeverAgain movement are worried about how people treat each other. They know the importance of activism. 

In an interview with Miami Herald, Stoneman Douglas High School teacher Jeff Foster explained that his mantra is “if you don’t participate, you can’t complain about things.’”

He tells students that they need to participate in order to make a difference in the country. There are many different ways to participate in change. People can volunteer, raise money for a certain cause, or talk to people online about issues that are important to them.

I grew up with the mindset that children should listen to adults and arguing with those older than you is disrespectful. At the same time, there has never been a desire to change the gun laws in this country by a young generation. The political climate of today was not as much of a problem as it was when I grew up though, either.

The younger generation has to be informed on the issues before they protest too. The students front-and-center of the gun reform debate know that their cases have to be air-tight and any type of fallacy in their facts could dismantle the #NeverAgain movement. I’m glad there are classes like debate and government where students can freely express their opinions without a lot of backlash. They can learn and grow in how they can tackle tough issues like gun reform before taking their arguments out on the live stage.

Unfortunately, students are still seen as children who don’t know what they are doing. They might even be seen as pawns in national political debates. Political commentator for Fox News, Tucker Carlson, even went as far to say that the protesting students aren’t citizens. But they are children whose parents pay the salaries of teachers at schools, they have jobs and contribute to society. Also, just because they can’t vote yet doesn’t mean they can’t make a difference. The #NeverAgain movement is evidence enough of that.

Those saying that student walkouts haven’t happened before or student walkouts don’t make a difference are not well informed.

Student walkouts have changed history. In March of 1968, more than 10,000 students walked out of five Los Angeles high schools to protest treatment of students of Mexican-American heritage.

Although it was a long time before the East Los Angeles students saw any positive results, they did succeed in having school districts hire more hispanic teachers, ending public swatting for those speaking Spanish in class and were able to see bilingual and ethnic studies classes be introduced.

According to TIME, participants in the East L.A. walkouts say students were motivated by constant guidance from a social studies teacher who worked at two high schools. He filled in the Mexican-American history missing from their textbooks and empowered students to learn more about their heritage.

Will the students that walk out of class and that are planning further protests make a lasting difference? I’m not sure. I think they have made a difference but I doubt it will be lasting.

As more debates and protests happen, though, there will be more change. Some have changed their minds on gun laws. According to CNBC, new results from a Gallup poll conducted after the Stoneman Douglas shooting found that support for stricter laws on gun sales was at its highest since 1993.

There are still those who think the current gun laws don’t pose a threat to school safety. Conservative legislators want to see laws passed that would permit teachers and other school staff to carry guns at school. We might see more measures taken to add armed security to schools. I don’t think guns and the favorable views people have of them are going away. I do hope we can begin to take students seriously and see that even those that can’t vote have tremendous value and influence.

Maybe there can be some sort of common ground that is found between the protesting students and politicians. But, as this is America in the 21st century, I don’t see that happening.

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