Letting youth lead

Amelie Zilber

Columbine. Virginia Tech. Sandy Hook. Parkland.

The locations of great American tragedies; the locations of the sorrowed and the grieving, where so many hearts met their undeserved fates.
A mere mention of such names undoubtedly evokes a shared sense of heartache among many around the nation. As we mourn the loss of such precious lives, many rise up – they speak out in rage, they march in anger, and they vote in earnest belief that congressional neglect will turn into action. Yet, advocates always fall back incredulously, in sheer awe they could be citizens of a land complicit in the deaths of thousands of innocent people.

It’s easy to distinguish the United States from other countries: the land of the brave and the free, a state born of its Constitutional values and universal tolerance. Yet, the moral integrity of our country is tarnished week after week, as local communities suffer bouts of gun violence. School shootings have become a distinctly American motif: an instrument for the aggrieved to find their voice through violence, a tactic no other industrialized country tolerates. As ordinary people are shot while engaging in the rhythms of their everyday lives, we become entrenched deeper into a nation defined by domestic terrorism.

Feb. 14 marked the one-year anniversary of the Parkland tragedy, where 14 students and three staff members were fatally shot by a gunman who opened fire in their high school, Marjory Stoneman Douglass. As a then 15-year-old sophomore, the devastation hit me particularly hard. The atrocity of that afternoon delivered a spine-chilling realization that my government values the ownership of a gun over a child’s life. Despite the years-long obvious need to address the epidemic of gun violence, our Republican-dominated Congress did virtually nothing. Yet, 2018 witnessed a change never before seen: the youth fought back. Young believers in gun-violence prevention laws stood up and said, “enough is enough,” because no student wants to be another face on a T-shirt, another assault rifle statistic, another soul forced to leave behind their families and their futures because of a clause outdated for the social climate of this country. America’s Gen Z is leading a revolution against political complacency and has driven 67 new gun laws into legislation by both Republican and Democratic representatives in 26 states and Washington, D.C. One year ago, the youth, fed up with inaction, made a decision: bullets will not silence them.
In the past year, students around the country staged vigils, school-wide walkouts, marches, and proposed bills to state legislators demanding action. We want to put pressure on Congress to change laws, whether that means banning bump stocks, strengthening background checks on high capacity automatic weapons, or enforcing a strict age limit and more complex mechanism in purchasing firearms.

But in an effort to make #NeverAgain a meaningful gun-violence-prevention movement, we are changing the political ethos of apathy through social media. By using hashtag campaigns, we create a vehicle of communication specific to the youth, a permanent network connecting young people to social awareness and inspiring them to create actual change. Social media activism encourages young adults to discover their own voice, to re-imagine their futures and to stand up.

For young people, being socially aware is intrinsic to who we are, not only because we’ve witnessed a rise in controversial events, but because of social media.

By merely growing up in a nation whose 21st century has been characterized by shootings and hate speech, we feel the need to do our part, to be one of many in a peer group that recognizes the idea that our actions can benefit the greater good of humanity. Whereas negligent politicians are governed by self-interest, young people see the potential of humanity in all its forms, and we should all start fighting for a safer world.