Youth activism in response to Parkland shooting should not be underestimated

Ameena Golding/Staff

With eight school shootings in 2018, and more than 400 injuries in more than 200 school shootings since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, the American public has become nearly desensitized to these horrors. However, this time the survivors are speaking up, and people are actually listening. Peers of the 17 students and staff members who were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14 have taken strides to impact the nation’s gun control policies.

Our deepest condolences are with the victims of this tragedy and their families. Our hearts go out to the students of Stoneman Douglas High School, whose experience hits close to home — especially in light of the shooting threat that administrators at Berkeley High School, or BHS, were notified of March 1. The students’ unremitting advocacy in wake of such trauma has galvanized our own response.

In response to the shooting, students from Parkland have spoken up to demand that their elected officials act to prevent such a tragedy from reoccurring. Despite their remarkable strength, courage and determination, mainstream media has been nothing short of condescending to these teenagers. One Washington Post article credited the students’ success to “their very youth, and the all-digital world of social media — the water they’ve always swum in — that makes it possible,” going on to refer to teenagers as the “Snapchat generation.” The insistence across news platforms that youths’ ability to be agents of change should be solely credited to technology ignores the research, intelligence and hard work of the students.

Perhaps this is because the concept of high schoolers engaging in their civic duty is counter to the dominating narrative of “apathetic youth.” The New York Times went as far as to say that the activists are “precocious.” One word in one headline can gloss over decades of teenage agency, forgetting the determination of the Little Rock Nine and the grassroots organization of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee during the Civil Rights Movement, to name a few precedents for today’s events.

The more extreme practice of suggesting that Parkland survivors are “crisis actors,” or paid to distribute political propaganda, made its rounds on the internet. These outlandish theories were easily debunked, but their mere existence reminds us that some will go to far lengths to discredit the arguments of politically aware teens.

The Berkeley community is by no means immune to this phenomenon, from bitter Berkeleyside readers who comment that BHS students only walk out of class to skip tests. Our age does not prevent us from engaging with the news and our values to make informed choices. In a school that prides itself on awareness and the myriad of social justice organizations on campus, we are in a prime position to shift culture towards recognizing the capabilities of youth.

Not everyone has the resources to devote themselves to activism full time, but everyone has the power to support young people in our community when we do speak out. Support us by listening. Treat us and our peers as the global citizens that we are — disagree or agree freely, but do not shut us down simply because we are still in high school. Broadly speaking, many teenagers are sick of systems of power that do not serve the people they are by their nature supposed to protect, and we feel a sense of duty to leave the world more just than when we inherited it.

Our community and our nation must reckon with the fact that today’s teens are educated, intelligent and motivated. We know the power of words and emotional appeals. When we step into the public spotlight to demand change, it is with intention and is reflective of careful planning. Do not underestimate us.

Emily Levenson is a Berkeley High School student who writes for the Berkeley High Jacket.