PARKLAND STUDENTS SHOW US THAT ACTIVISM HAS NO AGE LIMIT
By Anna Tingley
I have always been impressed by kids.
Their will to ask the questions that no one else has the bravery to ask. Their uncanny ability to get over a crying fit with a simple consolation prize. Their impulse to say what’s on their mind without fear of seeming stupid or being wrong.
In fact, a kid’s inherent ignorance of social norms is exactly what I see as being their strongest asset. They simply haven’t had the time and experience for their actions to be constrained by external expectations and past life lessons.
Of course, we all grow up (as we should) and learn how to play by the rules. We know digging for personal information from a stranger is rude. We mature out of our crying tantrums, having been tainted by life’s more worthy struggles. And we learn to contemplate our beliefs thoroughly before broadcasting them with strong conviction.
But teenagers? In my eyes, teenagers are superheroes. They’ve followed society’s training to act in a productive way and to communicate with those around them effectively. But what still remains is their unadulterated emotion and fiery passion. What makes them so special is that they harbor the experience and knowledge to make informed decisions, but most importantly, have not yet been convinced of the hopelessness of acting on their strong-held beliefs.
Teenagers harbor the hope that too many have lost. They are fearless.
In the wake of the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, however, hope seems a foolish concept. On Wednesday afternoon, February 14th, 19-year-old Nikolas Jacob Cruz revisited Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with a legally-obtained AR-15 semi-automatic rifle in tow, killing 14 of his former classmates and three teachers, and leaving many more injured. While it’s among our country's deadliest mass shootings, it is certainly not the first. According to the Gun Violence Archive, the U.S has suffered 34 mass shooting incidents since the advent of 2018. In 2017, our country saw 364 mass shootings in total.
Hope remains in those that survived, though. Just days after the horrific event, students of MSD spearheaded a discussion surrounding gun control. High school senior Emma Gonzalez prepared an 11-minute speech at an anti-gun rally in Fort Lauderdale, where she declared that her school ought to be the last site of such senseless tragedy.
“We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks,” she said. “Not because we’re going to be another statistic about mass shooting in America, but because … we are going to be the last mass shooting.”
After her speech went viral, the 18-year-old debated NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch at the CNN Town Hall, accusing her of not standing up for our country’s children (including Loesch’s own two kids).
Another survivor, Cameron Klasky, a prominent founder of the Never Again movement along with Gonzalez, penned an op-ed for CNN. “We can’t ignore the issues of gun control that this tragedy raises,” he writes. “And so, I’m asking — no, demanding — we take action now.”
Klasky then attacked Florida Senator, Marco Rubio, at a CNN town hall discussion about gun control. When asked by Klasky if he would stop accepting money from the NRA, Rubio refused to make that commitment.
Those in opposition to these students’ anti-gun rhetoric argue that these teenagers are too young to successfully lead such a movement. Their criticism can be best shown by hateful tweets.
— Jack Kingston (@JackKingston)
The big question is: should the media be promoting opinions by teenagers who are in an emotional state and facing extreme peer pressure in some cases?
— Bill O'Reilly (@BillOReilly) February 20, 2018
The lack of faith in this younger generation is simply ignorant. History has proven their ability to create change, in a way that is often impossible for older generations. Our country’s history of social and political progression can be clearly marked by the relentless activism of the younger generation.
In the Birmingham Children's Crusade of 1963, young children and teenagers took to the streets to protest segregation peacefully. They were met with violence from public officials and sent to jail, which didn’t stop even more children from protesting in the following days. Ultimately, their efforts could no longer be ignored and turned the tide of the Civil Rights Movement.
This same bravery can be seen in the relentless protests of college students during the Vietnam War, which eventually led to Nixon’s decision to effectively end the U.S’s involvement in the war effort.
The students of Parkland are already creating tangible change. Along with their persistent use of social media -- which has served as the main way the movement has gained its impressive traction -- MSD students marched to the state capitol building in Tallahassee on Wednesday to urge lawmakers to impose stricter gun control. Major companies are already severing ties with the NRA, including car rental companies and insurers. According to a CNN poll published yesterday, Feb. 24th, seven out of 10 people favor tighter gun control in light of Parkland. Colleges are also supporting high school walk-outs, with up to 50 campuses releasing statements that a suspension due to activism wouldn't affect admission.
We may have needed this bravery hundreds of shootings ago, but now is the time for us to recognize and appreciate the fiery passion of this younger generation. The students are the ones being slaughtered, and we have the media savvy, civic knowledge and energy to force change -- our generation is going to just say no. Not one more!
Underestimating these kids significantly overlooks their capabilities and unparalleled experiences. Activism isn’t learned with age, but has been proven to come with harrowing experiences that not only encourage, but force one, to defy the injustice around them.
These teenagers lost no time in turning their grief to action. They are at the forefront of this movement, and we need to be right there by their side.
Anna Tingley is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Tough to Tame, and an advocate for all things feminist, politics, or ramen-related. Her writing can be found at Teen Vogue, Billboard Magazine, Her Agenda, The Daily Bruin, and The Richmond Pulse. But for all the dirt, check her out on Instagram @annatationz and Twitter @annatingley.