OPINION: The power of student protest

Charlie Needles

UNF students protesting at white nationalist student’s discipline hearing. Photo by Lili Weinstein.

High school students from all over Florida are staging walkouts to have their voices heard across the nation. Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were under attack by a 19-year-old shooter armed with an AR-15, an assault-style weapon. The shooter ended 17 lives that day and the survivors decided something needed to be done about guns.

Connected through the viral Twitter campaign #NeverAgain, high schoolers in multiple Florida counties and some students in other states agreed that now is the time for change gun policies. They demanded their voices be heard by staging walkouts.  Parkland students took a trip to the state capitol in Tallahassee to speak their minds and pour their hearts out in defense of their safety. And they won’t stop there. New plans are in the works for a march in Washington D.C.

Time and time again, this nation’s youth are told they are too young to bring changes. They are faced with the choice to rebel with peaceful protests such as a walk out. They suffer the consequences of making a mark on their permanent record with missed classes and insubordination write-ups. Some colleges have declared that students who receive these marks against them will still be considered when applying for admission.

Still, with heavy pressure on youth to remain complacent, it’s no wonder that even in college, students are so distant from being active in politics.

But Millennials and even Generation Z can make a difference. The youth of this nation is a force in itself. They are only a few years away from voting age and they have opinions and political stances that are often times distinct from their parents’ political party.

When I was in high school in Orlando, the school district switched the start times of middle and high school to save money on school bus routing. The change disrupted high schoolers extracurricular schedules to no end. Anyone in sports had to stay long after dark for practices, and high school clubs had to rearrange to make the clubs available to all members. Middle schoolers had to drag themselves out of bed at the crack of dawn to get to school, something they and their families were not prepared for. High schoolers staged a walkout to let their voices be heard that the change was not manageable. The following year, the schedules were reverted. There were many working parts to the change, but the force of the youth could not be ignored.

Whether the issue is big, like the national gun debate, or small, like the time high school starts at, there’s always a way to get involved and even before the voting age, youths can and will be heard.

As technology makes it easier for voices to congregate digitally, the power of youth to band together only gets wider and stronger. Student activists are the future. They will step up to be a generation of politically aware voters. Students’ voices are mighty, and they will demand an audience.

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