Young people are immature, they need time to grow up and become adults; then, and only then, should they weigh in on important matters. We call BS.
On the morning of 14th February, few outside of her friends and classmates had ever heard of Emma González. By the last week of February she had more Twitter followers than the powerful US pro-gun lobby group, the National Rifle Association (NRA). The irony is both brutal and beautiful.
The date is important. On that afternoon, Nikolas Cruz, a former student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, calmly walked into the school, carrying an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, and shot and killed 17 people. It was one of the world’s deadliest school shootings. It was also the 19th school shooting incident in the US in seven weeks.
What followed was remarkable. Amid the now standard-issue calls for ‘thoughts and prayers’, young people, led by survivors of the shooting, took to social media with the message, ‘you must listen to us, and we say, #NeverAgain’. The reaction gained mainstream media attention, and those same survivors then stepped up to take centre stage.
Emma González was one of them, and her message was direct and uncompromising: “The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us. And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and are prepared to call BS. They say that no laws would have been able to prevent the hundreds of senseless tragedies that occur. We call BS. That us kids don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re too young to understand how the government works. We call BS”.
Within four days, she and fellow survivors had formed an advocacy group for stricter gun control – Never Again MSD. The reaction of the NRA, and the US lawmakers they fund, was at first dismissive – they were after all ‘just kids’. But then, as it became clear the students’ message was gaining widespread traction, the NRA became combative. González started receiving death threats. President Trump’s reaction was a call to arm teachers.
Barack Obama was more presidential; tweeting the following: “Young people have helped lead all our great movements. How inspiring to see it again in so many smart, fearless students standing up for their right to be safe; marching and organising to remake the world as it should be. We’ve been waiting for you. And we’ve got your backs.”
It is clear Emma González, her fellow students, the more than a million people who now follow her on Twitter, and the millions more who have taken to social media in support of them and their call for a US nationwide protest on 24 March, are a movement with considerable force.
To those who doubt the power of young people, and who say we can’t affect meaningful change, we invoke the rallying cry Obama made famous, “Yes we can”.
[This article originally appeared on the mindofafox Growing Foxes app in the week of 26 February 2018. Growing Foxes is a school strategic intelligence programme designed by mindofafox. It is being piloted in a number of leading schools in the UK and South Africa. The app serves to support those students currently engaging with the programme. Click on the logo to find out more].
Image: Rhona Wise, AFP/Getty Images