Parkland and the power of the teenage voice

MacKenzie Rumage raises questions, doubts and hopes around the response to the recent Parkland shooting. Will things change in the future? Only time will tell, but perhaps now we have the ability to create change on a truly global scale. 

As an American, there have been many instances over the past year alone where I have felt disappointed, angry, and hopeless about my country. It has been depressingly easy to fall into despair over the state of America — from its increasingly polarised politics and seemingly unending cases of Hollywood sexual assault and harassment, to widespread debate over whether or not climate change is real and the rise of white nationalism. It has been difficult to defend my country and feel proud to be an American (especially while living in a different country) while I disagree with so much of what my own president has been saying and tweeting on a daily basis.

It was even harder to feel optimistic about the state of American affairs after the Parkland shooting in my home state of Florida. While I did not grow up near Parkland or know any of the victims, I grieved.

After years of seeing Congress do next to nothing about gun control for years, I bitterly spat to a British friend the night of the shooting, “Nothing’s going to change. Congress isn’t going to do anything. If they didn’t do anything after Sandy Hook, they’re not going to do anything now. And Trump’s going to make it out to be a mental health issue and then not do anything for the mental health community.” I was so sure that this massacre would be talked about for a few weeks, argued over by politicians and journalists, then swept under the rug and everything would continue as it has for too long.

Then I saw the students — the brave, strong students — turn to our leaders in Washington and demand change. David Hogg, a survivor of the shooting, when asked by a CNN reporter what he would say to lawmakers, looked straight at the camera and said explicitly, “Take action… We’re children. You’re adults.” Hogg himself had taken out his phone during the shooting so there would always be a record of what happened, so the country would understand how much gun control is needed.

Teenagers have started to become much more involved and outspoken about current global affairs, and it’s fantastic. They are the future of not only our countries, but of the world as well. They are the ones who will have to grow up and live under the laws our leaders put in place and execute, so why shouldn’t they make their voices heard?

Recently, I had the pleasure of helping my friend Josh organise a March For Our Lives rally at St Andrews. It was a whirlwind planning stage, with both of us on vacation, trying to email potential speakers who were also on vacation, and clearing the rally with the town in just a few days. Never had either of us written so many professional emails. But the end result was worth the stress, sleepless nights, and probable carpal tunnel. When people started to walk towards the Union, signs in hand, saying they were here for the March, my jaw dropped. It was actually happening. Josh and I had created something real and meaningful. People were interested in the issue, and just as passionate about it.

Josh and I used Facebook and other social media outlets to spread the word about the March, and I think that is what sets today’s youth apart from previous generations. Now, news from around the globe is at our fingertips, and thus, teenagers are more informed about current events. And because they can use those same devices to share their opinions on those issues, they can direct their sentiments directly to lawmakers and help enact real change. The American March For Our Lives rallies on March 24th were able to happen because of teenagers’ ability to wield social media to their cause.

The Parkland students’ demand for gun control helped contribute to Florida Governor Rick Scott passing legislation that raised the minimum age of legally buying a gun in Florida from 18 to 21. They are not the only influential teen activists in the world. Black Parkland students, having felt like the media is neglecting their voices, have started speaking out on Twitter, demanding to be heard as much as their peers. Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is a seventeen-year-old Native American environmental activist and rapper, performing at Standing Rock in protest against the Keystone pipeline, and leading the Youth v. Gov lawsuit against the American federal government.

America has always prided itself on being a beacon of hope — a country that represents freedom, opportunity, and equality under the law. These teenagers fight for these ideals that we as a country have always stood for, and they give me hope for the future.

As Michelle Obama said, “Don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country is not great. That somehow we need to make it great again.” These teenagers remind me that, yes, America is already great. As long as they keep fighting for America to stay great, I believe it will be.