Disclaimer: Evolve Treatment Centers has one goal, which is to help adolescents struggling with behavioral, emotional, and substance use disorders. This brief article discusses a movement started by adolescents, which makes it important to us. Understanding issues front and center in the lives of adolescents helps us help them. This article is about understanding, which means it is neither a public endorsement nor criticism of #neveragain, the policy objectives of the movement, or anything said or done by its members.
Youth Activism in The Digital Age
Those are powerful words.
Most adults abandon saying sentences that begin with the words “I’ll never…” sometime during their thirties, because by that point, they’ve lived long enough to understand that over the course of a lifetime, circumstances change, ideas shift, personalities transform, and priorities realign. They find themselves saying and doing things they never thought – back when they were idealistic sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen-year-olds – they’d ever say or do.
“That’s life,” adults say with a shrug. “When I was a teenager, I didn’t know any better.”
This generation of teens – the subset galvanized into action in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day of this year – definitely don’t know any better. And it’s not out of ignorance, naivete, or youthful exuberance and idealism.
They don’t know any better and they plan to keep on not knowing any better. They’re making a conscious decision to ignore conventional wisdom and take on the gun lobby. They believe they can change the conversation about gun control in the U.S. because they already have: in the state of Florida, they were the catalyst for bringing about the first substantial change in gun control law in decades. They did this despite the power of the Florida gun lobby: 67 lawmakers endorsed by gun lobbyists voted for the bill, and the pro-gun governor of the state signed it.
The bill is now law.
They made change happen.
These teenagers got politicians to take real steps toward the kind of common sense gun reform supported by a vast majority of the citizens in the U.S., gun owners included. That didn’t happen after the following school shootings:
- Columbine High School, Columbine, CO, 1999: 13 dead.
- Red Lake High School, Red Lake, MN, 2005: 9 dead.
- West Nickel Mines Amish School, Nickel Mines, PA, 2006: 5 dead.
- Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, CT, 2012: 27 dead.
- Marysville Pilchuck High School, Marysville, WA, 2014: 4 dead.
- Santa Fe High School, Santa Fe, Texas, 2018: 10 dead.
The real reason they don’t know any better is because they got gun legislation passed.
They don’t know any better because now they know better.
They made change happen.
In light of that monumental achievement, we offer this list:
Ten Things the #neveragain Movement Reveals About This Generation of Teenagers
- They’ve found their voice and aren’t afraid to use it to speak their truth to power.
- They know the future of gun control is in their hands.
- They’re not naïve about the world. These kids understand they’ve got a tough job ahead of them, but they’re optimistic about getting it done.
- They know they’re the next generation of politicians, lobbyists, civil servants, entrepreneurs, teachers, business leaders, and professionals.
- They know how to leverage social media and the internet to make things happen. They’re experts at blending old-school activism with new-school tech.
- They aren’t afraid of calling out politicians.
- Nor are they afraid of the gun lobby.
- They see no problem connecting issues of race, gender, LGBTQ rights, economic privilege, net neutrality, campaign finance reform, and climate change with gun control. They appear to understand intersectionality from all sides. For a quick explanation of what intersectionality is, read this short article.
- They grew up with trolling and don’t sweat it. If their opponents troll them, they troll back, twice as hard – and win.
- They know some of their number can vote now, others will be able to vote by the 2018 mid-terms, and almost all of the leaders of the movement will be able to vote by the 2020 elections. We know they know this because as part of their marches and rallies, they’ve mounted an enormous voter-registration effort.
What Does the Future Hold?
No one knows.
Sadly, however, we do know one thing: it happened again already in Santa Fe, Texas.
We know that’s not going to stop this generation of teenagers, though.
Right now, they’re planning marches, organizing voter registration initiatives, and calling their local, state, and federal elected officials. Some of them are running for office themselves or making plans to when they’re of age. From all appearances, this generation is tired of the cynicism of their parent’s generation. They believe change is large-scale societal change is possible and understand they’re the ones responsible for making that change happen on the gun issue in particular.
They’ve already organized the largest single gun safety protest in history. On March 14th, 2018, they spearheaded a day of grassroots political activism with astounding numbers. That day, at 10:00 am, over 1,000,000 students at over 3,000 schools in 50 states got up from their desks, walked outside, and for 17 minutes let the country know they should not be ignored, underestimated, or dismissed. Whatever side of the issue you’re on, that accomplishment itself deserves the attention and respect of adults everywhere, from parents to politicians to policy-makers.
The Next Great Generation?
We often hear the generation that fought World War II called The Greatest Generation. They brought us out of the Depression, defeated fascism in Europe, created the social safety net, built our economy into the most powerful in the history of the world, listened and responded well-enough in the 1960s – albeit after incredible pressure from the African-American and youth activists – to pass the Civil Rights Act and The Voting Rights Act, and in 1972 the Equal Rights Amendment.
That generation that followed, The Baby Boomers, were the people making most of the noise in the social and cultural revolution of the 60s. They now occupy the most powerful positions in business, politics, and culture in our country. Whether they listen to this new generation of activists remains to be seen.
In Florida, they listened.
And when we look back on this period in history fifty years from now, we may just call this group of teenagers – this first group of 21st century citizens – something other than a bunch of naïve kids.
We may just call them The Greatest Generation.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA. He writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.