Sylvana Widman, ’20
On Saturday, March 24, 2018, a steady stream of young people – from toddlers perched on their parents’ shoulders to passionate high schoolers – flooded past the barricades on Central Park West to participate in what will now live on as a milestone in American history (whether the NRA likes it or not) – the March For Our Lives. Armed with colorful signs and a commitment borne of too many traumatic gun deaths, the protestors this time were buoyed by the swift, united strength of those whom are often, as a former president might say, “misunderestimated” – America’s youth. The fight for gun control endured for decades, but whether the push has come from communities wracked by daily gun violence or from President Obama’s response to yet another tragic school shooting, hope for common sense gun control has remained unfulfilled up to the present day.
To that, though, Generation Z says no more. Walking with a youth coalition, the Youth Progressive Policy Group, I saw firsthand the dedication, earnestness and enthusiasm of young people to effect changes in the political system. The YPPG carried with them not only voter registration forms but petitions to lower the voting age to seventeen. When we stopped by the side of the road as the young walked past, parents and guardians in tow, it took little effort getting eligible teens registered to vote. “Vote them out” was not just a slogan; New Yorkers were ready to bring the phrase to fruition. Says high school senior Chris Stauffer, canvassing for young voters, “It was really inspiring to see so many people out demanding that our representatives actually change our gun laws. The number of young people there willing to work hard for change just goes to show how powerful our generation is.”
While the passion and optimism of the students marching made the event’s energy lively and positive, the gravity of the cause was lost on no one. Says Grace Dowling, a sophomore at Bard High School Early College, “There was a great turnout, and there was a surprising number of kids there with their parents holding their own signs… It was really incredible but also sad to see how young children are concerned about gun control, which they just should not have to worry about.”
The turnout Saturday morning displayed a union of many strands of society. Led by teenagers, people of all ages, races, genders and religions showed up, stood up, and spoke up. Having displayed in less than eight hours a powerful statement against gun violence and the formidable business and political interests that have enabled it across the country, the next task for teenagers is to continue what we’ve started. Says senior Stasya Rodionova, “The march was incredibly powerful and it was inspiring to see so many young people spearheading the movement… As a generation, we have proven that we are educated, eloquent, and our voices are loud. Now it’s time to ensure that our voices are also powerful and the only way to do that is with the ballot.” YPPG leader Eli Frankel continues, “Our power is at the ballot box, so let’s sustain this movement through to November when young people across America will demand with their votes stronger gun control, safer schools, and a platform for student voices in our democracy.” As future voters and leaders, kids from New York City to Los Angeles have demonstrated their capacity for focusing national attention on an intractable problem and showing that a safer future is possible. It is now up to us, young students, more than ever, to make that vision a reality.