The Age of Activism
A common misconception about changemaking and advocacy is that it is done most effectively by figures in charge; politicians, lawyers, presidents, and others. The youth of today are shattering those delusions one effort at a time, with far-reaching and impactful results.
In Packer alone, students are in the process of aiding the organization of a national march to act against gun violence, which has garnered the support of 1,000 participants and counting. Students have organized forums, written anonymous letters to address the issues in our community that have long been overseen, and have banded together in efforts to lead others. They have reformed unjust school policies, made spaces to speak for inclusivity, and bravely stepped forward to advocate for these problems. These efforts have certainly not been flawless, and there are many areas that remain in need of change, but the relentless drive that exists among students to both celebrate or criticize these spaces is a characteristic that this generation readily embraces.
The reason for this activism may be rooted in the following concepts: that it is never too early to start advocating for a cause, that the minds of younger people are just as valid as those who are older, and that activism is not restricted by the age of the activists.
“I think a lot of the time adults feel like they know exactly what they are talking about, but really, they won’t be able to ever experience the life that we as students go through. That’s why I think it’s so important that, as young adults, we share our opinions and our voices because oftentimes they get lost and go unheard. That is why we try our best to make them heard,” shared Leila Narisetti (‘20), a leader on Packer’s Student Diversity Leadership Council and prominent speaker in many spheres of the community.
With these ideas in mind, the accomplishments of the Packer student body are certainly no coincidence. Looking at the community retrospectively, there appears to be three central aspects that allow this strong presence of change to exist.
For one, Packer has many areas for leadership, ranging from organizations that students can apply for to the ability to create and run clubs. Students can and are encouraged to step up and take initiative in areas that they are passionate about, which enables the power of the student voice.
“There are a lot of adults in this community that really believe in young people, and I think that that’s an important piece of the puzzle. I think that we the create spaces to have young people lead, and that we can do even more of it. I’ve worked at schools and been at places that don’t do that.” said Tené Howard, director of global programs and community engagement and an avid supporter of student ran efforts.
Secondly, many student activists share a certain indignation toward current events and the nation’s political climate, where it almost feels as if the frequency of misfortunes is coming to an all time crescendo. Taking a look at the data of 2018 so far, there have been 29 examples of firearms being used on school campuses, dozens of cases of sexual violence among prominent figures, and examples of racism and hurtfulness permeating everyday lives. Student activists across the board, despite advocating for a range of issues, consistently share a feeling of discontent toward aspects of present society that, to them, are unjust. These are often the primary reasons behind their action.
Natalie Ziegler, a student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, supported this feeling, offering a firsthand view into her community’s response to the February 14th shooting. “We are not proposing the banning of guns—we are just trying to make them less accessible,” she stated. “There is anger and sadness. People are angry and want the laws changed but also still grieving. [Acting] is the community’s way of grieving. Fighting for what is right is helping us get through it. People are gathering together to fight and win this battle.”
And lastly, the way that our generation has harnessed the power of media has significantly broadened the audience of movements. Viral hashtags like #MeToo, #TimesUp and #NeverAgain (just to name a few) have sweeped social platforms across the web and caught the attention of millions of viewers, sparking discourse about their agendas. Students are capable of using technology as a medium to gain exposure, promote fundraising, and share information toward their causes, and these tools have elevated the ability to make change to new heights.
As a whole, however, and with all logistics aside, the real reason behind student activism can circle back to the main point that activism can and should happen at any age. As Ms. Howard put it, “A lot of times adults will say [to kids] that you really need to do certain things so that when you grow up you can apply them, or will say that when you go into the working world, you will really need to know how to do these certain things. What I think is that you, [as the youth], are alive and thriving human beings right this minute. You don’t have to wait until some unnameable opportunity eight years from now to activate [leadership]. You can activate it right now, and you must activate it right now. We’re counting on you to activate it right now.”