Thousands upon thousands standing together. Their signs shouting different messages, yet alike in their intentions. Never Again.
This gun-control focused movement is only one of many organized by today’s young people, which have flourished in recent years – their ability to swiftly develop and involve the masses demonstrates this generation’s inability to be forgotten.
These adolescents have become a generation which no longer allows the government or anyone else to suppress their voices: “What I see from youth now is the notion that what happens next in this country is up to them because they are the ones who are going to be the recipients (of the outcomes of their own activism),” political science professor Dr. Archie-Hudson said.
Since realizing their power to catalyze change, youth activism has gained increased attention and advocacy due to their overwhelming energy and dominance.
“In the past–and even now–we underestimate what teens and young adults and children can handle and can do. And when you see students taking matters that are important to them in their own hands, it’s really powerful,” junior and president of Prism Tessa Torgovitsky said.
Taking matters into their own hands, however, is only the first step for activists of any age or issue. Now, today’s youth has forcibly secured the country’s attention, as well as the government’s.
College of Charleston alumni and current American University law student, Savannah Pugh, said, “It’s [youth activism] forcing politicians to cater to a generation that’s going to be around, frankly, longer than the generations they’ve catered to in the past…that’s something really special, that’s something we’ve never seen happen in our country before.”
Although political and social activism has always been prevalent in this single-issue driven government, only recently has youth activism fostered such an informed, zealous and politically-correct generation, intensifying their influence on the nation’s future to an unprecedented extent.
“People always get angry at youth who are leading movements because it’s easy to dismiss someone because of their age, it’s easy to say ‘You don’t understand,’ it’s easy to say that ‘You don’t have the right to try and make a change,’ but ultimately the changes they’re campaigning for are going to affect them the most…you have to recognize them (young activists) for who they are…they’re claiming their time and they’re claiming their futures by doing what they’re doing right now,” Torgovitsky said.
Another element of these teens’ and young adults’ intensified power is their relentless use of social media. Allowing them to openly promote their message to a wider audience. This, however, can lead to unforeseen consequences: producing “passive” activists, or teens relaying certain limited messages only to achieve merit or affirmation from their peers.
“There is a danger in just radical slogans and emojis and stuff because they are instant, they look good, and they feel good…I feel like there is that danger that makes it a status symbol as opposed to real, focused, intentional means to make changes…if it’s gonna be productive, it has to have the physical type of expressions,” Dr. Archie-Hudson said, “and it’s gotta have strategy; and a lot of movements die because there isn’t a strategy…So I think that’s the key is whether it’s just a passive status symbol or really kind of a planned invention.” Strategic advocacy for a cause, via social media, can be a pivotal part of an activist movement today; the execution of said strategy with a large online presence is even more crucial. To Archie-Hudson, this is much easier said than done, especially for young people.
“I think it (social media) can be less productive because I don’t know if it has staying power. So when I look at all the hashtags I want to say ‘Stop. Tell me what this means and what are you gonna do about it?’…I really want to know what it means and what the intention is of that. Because if it’s just a slogan that…makes us feel good, then we go around to the next thing,” Dr. Archie-Hudson said, “I don’t know if people are really thinking it through because a lot of it is instant gratification. And we need to be able to recognize what’s instant gratification and what’s strategy. So it’s intentionality that–to me–is very important. Strategic use of social media could have an extraordinary effect,” she said.
While strategic use of social media is important to promoting a movement, instituting a certain level of Constitutional literacy within the youth establishes both credibility and a knowledge of legal boundaries.
“Youth activism–a lot of the time–underestimates or overestimates the constitution in that a lot of people don’t understand how far their First Amendment rights truly go or how far they are actually limited…They’re (teens) taught their entire lives that we have the right to free speech and no one really taught where those lines of limitations lie. I think that it would be helpful if these youths, they just knew a little bit more about the Constitution, or they knew where their rights lay, so that when the situation comes up that they find themselves in the gray area, they understand how to react and they don’t end up finding themselves in legal troubles,” Pugh said.
Although not experts on the Constitution, adolescents are unyielding in fulfilling their original goal; they’re persistent in preventing their age, race, socioeconomic status or gender from justifying their dismissal.
“I think the biggest message is just to keep going. Even when the cameras leave and the news isn’t putting it in all the headlines anymore is making sure that it’s still moving and the things that you want, the things that you’re fighting for are still happening…I think that’s something that’s really important is making sure that we’re not forgotten and that we don’t get swept under the rug just because something new is trending on twitter or some celebrity is doing something that we all need to talk about,” Torgovitsky said, “but I think that just making sure that you’re still being heard, that you’re still moving even when there is no attention on you, because that’s what’s important is making sure that, even when it’s quiet, you’re still putting in the work.”