(Photo via Ted Goldman at TGoldmanPhotography.com)
A lot of thoughts rush through my mind whenever I hear the news that there has been yet another school shooting.
I immediately think of my own daughter and how far away the 10 blocks where she goes to school feels. I think about how scared the students and teachers are and how devastating it must be for a parent to lose a child in such a gruesome way. I think about gun control laws, mental health and how helpless we feel as a nation.
But what I had not thought about until last week is how rightfully angry the teenage survivors are toward politicians, current laws and the NRA and how they will channel that anger to push for political change.
A friend of mine recently shared a comment in regard to these students: “We have failed them, but maybe they can save us.” And that may very well be true.
I am so proud of and thankful for the surviving students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for speaking out and acting up. These students did not just decide to become political activists on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. They were forced into it by violence and death. And while many of them they may not be able to vote, they have already showed us that there are other ways to create change.
Let’s empower young people to voluntarily engage in activism and perhaps prevent what we, the adults, could not. Here are some ideas for the young people in your life:
1. Get out the vote.
While one must be at least 18 years old to vote, anyone can volunteer to get out the vote, also known as GOTV. Hosting a voter registration drive at school, helping an adult knock on doors, driving people to the polls and even picking up pizza for a campaign event can all be work that a young person can do. With the May primary still a few months away, this the best time to start this work.
2. Contact elected officials.
Kids under the age of 18 are still constituents, which means they can write, call or text their elected officials to express their opinions on votes, budgets and policies. Web tools like ResistBot and Democracy.io make it easy to reach out using a smartphone. This not only helps teach how a democracy should work, but also helps hone professional writing and communication skills.
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3. Use social media to share ideas.
Creating an issues-based social media account (that is supervised by a guardian) can be used as a creative outlet to share words, pictures, artwork and videos across the world. This will also teach young people how to respectfully engage in online debate, and how to identify “trolls” — essential skills for 2018.
4. Join or start a youth-friendly advocacy group.
It’s cookie season, so the Girls Scouts are top of mind. With programs and events focused on community leadership, badges that are dedicated to helping people, and the organization’s progressive policies like their stance on palm oil and being welcoming to transgender participants makes them a real life version of the Pawnee Goddesses.
Some schools may have other progressive clubs already taking place, like a garden club that talks about food access and global warming, an LGBTQ and Allies group that has programming on anti-bullying and celebrating what make us each unique, or a debate club where students can learn technical skills related to public advocacy.
If none of these clubs exists, one can be created. Seek out a teacher or principal to help, brainstorm with a group of friends and create something new. These groups can have guest speakers, hold fundraisers for bigger organizations, and be a great way for those who may feel helpless and overwhelmed to come together.
As with anything worth doing, all of these ideas take time and energy. When you are dealing with tough issues like gun control and school violence, it can be particularly draining. It is important to also talk about self-care and prioritizing when encouraging young people to take action. Make sure they celebrate the victories and appreciate the progress made, no matter how small.
If we can shift our culture so that young people approach activism proactively, rather than reactionary, then maybe the kids really will save us.-30-
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