Many days ago surfing the internet, I saw a string of comments reflecting on the activism of teenage school-shooting survivors and fighters of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Several commenters praised the strength and resilience of students for speaking out against government inaction and apathetic attitudes toward gun laws. Other commenters derided and disparaged the students for being inexperienced, thoughtless, and ignorant members of our society. I know that the internet is full of anonymous strangers, trolls, and conspiracy theorists but something about these statements reflect a number of real perceptions and opinions of Americans.
Another issue concerns the highly-circulating conspiracy theories around Parkland High School students actually being paid actors to promote a liberal agenda against the NRA and the government. These conspiracy theories devalue and belittle the experiences of teenagers and their rightful response. They also serve to plant a seed of doubt in the average online-media consumer to muddle up debates around gun control and school shootings. However, the fact of the matter is that school shootings are an issue in this country. I grew up post-Columbine and have always been aware of the potential danger of someone bringing a gun to school. Have previous generations ever had the fear of being shot by their peers while in class?
Does age reflect inexperience and ignorance? Where and when do we begin devaluing our youth? What does it mean for our country when we have people that have little to no faith in our country’s youth? What happens to our support for each other when the youth aren’t respected and trusted? This NPR article highlights some of the many youth-led movements in U.S. history spanning back to the 1800’s. Some cases of activism are exemplified from the New York newspaper boy strike against media moguls and millionaires William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. Others highlight racial tensions and inequality in both black and Latino communities in the American south and Los Angeles respectively.
What can we learn from the activism of Parkland students? We cannot discount our youth by their “lack of experience,” whatever that may mean. We must also be weary of conspiracy theories and the effect they have on people. (There is precedence of conspiracy theories getting out of hand with this example of harassment.) Lastly, we are collectively responsible for the spread of information online and the way that we respond to this information. Students from Parkland are a group of young and brave individuals utilizing freedom of speech and public platforms to spread a message about the state of school shootings. This is what we must take away from a difficult experience and reality for our country's youth.