The Voice

Teen Advocacy Matters

"The temptation to silence young people has always existed ..." but, "you have it in you to shout ..." says Pope Francis.

Photo by Laura Prietto

Hannah Browne, Reporter

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Over 50 years ago, the youth of our nation marched past the Lincoln Memorial to the front steps of the Pentagon, protesting the Vietnam War, promising to levitate the Pentagon through exorcism, burn the cherry trees, and turn the Potomac River red in order to get the nation to listen and act.

The march was a defining moment not only for the anti-war movement but also for youth activism. The nation watched and listened, as intense, passionate pleas were made by teenagers, too young to vote, to end the carnage in Vietnam.

Fast forward 50 years, and the youth of our nation are once again bubbling with discontent below the surface of a prescribed routine of violence, governed by an adult population wallowing in post World War II mediocrity and idealism.

While the youth of today’s America did not attempt to burn any cherry trees or levitate the Pentagon, on March 24 they succeeded in permanently linking the words ‘teen’ and ‘advocate’ together, proving that the post-Millennial generation of youth are game changers, who are just beginning to challenge the status quo.

March for Our Lives was the biggest youth advocacy movement since the Vietnam War, and in sheer numbers, it was bigger than the 1967 march on the capital.

Tired of cleaning up the blood, patching the bullet holes and burying their friends, teen advocates demanded that their voices be heard, begging to shed their notoriety as the “mass shooting generation” through greater gun control.

The March for Our Lives teen demonstrators, including Marjory Stoneman Douglas High student Emma González, are educated, organized and well spoken beyond their teenage years, wisely defending their platform for change along with Second Amendment rights instead of against them.

It is too early to tell if the efforts will succeed in effecting change, but adults are listening very carefully and they are busy calculating what will happen at the polls when the teens vote as 18-year-olds.

Gun violence is not the only issue being taken on by the youth of our nation. In October 2017 The Voice reported on a movement to reduce single use plastic straw consumption, spearheaded locally by teen advocate Shelby O’Neil.

It is widely known that plastic straws are polluting the ocean and harming marine life; however, it wasn’t until a teen got involved that the issue gained wider support on a local level.

Her efforts blossomed into a #nostrawnovember commitment by businesses throughout the Central Coast of California and subsequently throughout the state, evolving into a permanent position by several businesses to either use paper straws or give plastic straws on request only.

In January, a bill was introduced into the California state legislature to make the advocated changes permanent.  If it passes, it will be illegal for restaurant servers to give guests plastic straws unless requested, with the threat of a $1,000 fine or jail time.

It is these small, grass root efforts by teens, sans big glossy corporate sponsorships, that are catching on and making a difference. Masters at cell phone usage and social media, teens are constantly demanding a new, different approach to old, staid ways, and they know how to get a movement going.

Closer to home, Presentation seniors Aarushi Sahejpal and Allison Baroni and Junior Isabel Bellot led nearly the entire student body on the March for Our Lives walkout. Their efforts to organize a march at Pres proved that activism is not difficult and can be achieved quickly and simply.

The leaders encouraged classmates to continue activism beyond the walkout by writing letters to government representatives. Use the mail, use social media, use email or make a phone call – grassroots activism works, they professed.

On Palm Sunday, the day after March for Our Lives, the post-Millennial generation of game changers got an unexpected supporter, the Pope.

In his address, targeted at young Catholics, Pope Francis acknowledged, “The temptation to silence young people has always existed … and make them invisible … there are many ways to sedate them, to keep them from getting involved, to make their dreams flat and dreary, petty and plaintive.”

However, he continued, “you have it in you to shout … even if we older people and leaders, very often corrupt, keep quiet.” It was a nod from the Pope that he saw what was going on in America on March 24 and he liked it.

Teen advocates of this generation are just getting started. The war cry is being heard around the world: don’t be silent, shout for injustice, advocate to change what doesn’t work any longer, and remember, the big guy has your back.

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