The Fleeting Nature of Student Activism

Maya Katz

               art by Josephine Low

Members of Gen Z in New York have taken a fairly active role in voicing their political views and involving themselves in peaceful protests for various causes. The ability to freely voice one’s own political views is fantastic; it is great to see so many students around New York City doing so. But what are students really doing?

Students will attend walkouts and peaceful protests that focus on whatever cause is “in” at the time. In the moment, students appear to be invested in the cause, hence their involvement in the protest. But the interest in dealing with the particular cause seems to stop once these mainstream protests stop. 

When I was a freshman in high school in 2018, protests against gun violence were “trending” at the time; these protests were in response to the shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida. Walkouts in response to gun violence were common in many high schools. While these protests were taking place, many students seemed to feel that addressing gun violence could no longer be put off. But after the spring of 2018, the once pressing issue of ensuring safety in schools was no longer “in”. Then in the fall of 2019, climate change protests and walkouts were “all the rage”. Shortly after that, the wide sense of commitment to addressing climate change seemed to fade away. In the spring of 2020, Black Lives Matter protests took place across the country. 

Many teenagers have been using their social media platforms to post information on the issues that they see as important, especially since people are spending lots of time at home due to the coronavirus pandemic. They may post information on different problems that they want to spread awareness about or they may post complaints relating to certain problems. But this is where their political activism comes to a halt. Social media users do not have a follow-up to their expressions of discontent towards various political and social issues. Users tend not to follow through with their opinions on various issues, which could include attending marches, signing petitions, or calling government representatives. Change does not take place because this protest is not accompanied by an action.

Why is the “trend” of following different causes an issue? Take Black Lives Matter, for example. On June 2, 2020, many people took part in a social media trend referred to as Blackout Tuesday, a protest in response to police brutality and systemic racism in America. This form of protest was started by the music industry which decided to halt the release of music on that day. Many people all over social media posted black squares with the hashtag “#blackouttuesday”. The many Instagrammers who participated in this protest made the appearance of widespread support and commitment to addressing the racial injustices in society. But for the vast majority, this was the extent of their involvement in the cause. Posting a solid black square was their only action in protesting police brutality and systemic racism. This was a lazy way to rally behind the Black Lives Matter Movement as it did nothing to help work towards effecting change. Demonstrating support for a cause cannot simply be saying you support it, you must show that you support it through your actions. Passive protest does little in working towards addressing issues.

Continuing to put off dealing with the issues facing Americans is detrimental to too many people. For problems that address safety threats, like gun violence, delaying political action means that more innocent people will get hurt since people’s lives are at risk. For social issues, people’s lives are involved, and so delays will continue to affect the quality of life for many in a detrimental manner. The issue of addressing these troubles falls upon current students because they are the future of the United States. High schoolers will soon enter the real world and be faced with the burden of dealing with the many inequalities facing different groups of Americans. It is important that students get involved in causes that they feel are important and commit to them so that they can work towards effecting change.

So the question is, how can we ensure that certain issues remain relevant? Of course, the most important thing to do to combat the issues that are important to you is to vote. Voting for politicians with an agenda that fights the important causes will increase the momentum on effective change. 

But what can students in NYC do if they are under 18? Firstly, you can pre-register to vote starting at 16 years old; doing so will allow you to be ready to take action the moment you turn 18. There is an abundance of opportunities for political involvement in New York City even if you cannot vote. Many students do not recognize the importance of local politics, but there are many different offices within New York City such as assembly, state senate, and more that will have an effect on you and the people around you. Local politicians are focused on issues affecting communities and smaller areas rather than politicians involved in federal government. Many of these local politicians have volunteer positions for high schoolers to be a part of campaigning. Working on a campaign for a politician who wants to address issues that are important to you is a direct way to follow through on your beliefs. For example, I was involved in a campaign for someone running for public advocate because they prioritized the environment which is an important cause to me.

If joining a campaign is not of interest or an option, donate to the campaigns of politicians who support the issues that are important to you. You can also donate money to a GoFundMe relating to a cause that you support. If you cannot donate, use your social media to spread these GoFundMe pages so that other people who are in your circles can have the option to donate. You can also email government officials and politicians to voice your concerns and tell them what you feel they should be doing differently. Another way to stick to your views is to sign petitions relating to a cause you want to focus on; use your social media to spread these petitions in order to gain widespread support. 

In many countries, dissent and disagreement with what the government is doing are not tolerated; people in other countries often risk their lives by involving themselves in causes that they feel are the right course of action. Teenagers in the United States will soon bear the burden of all the troubles facing the country, and so it is important to prepare to combat the many issues we will have to face. Living in the United States means that you have the liberty of free speech which allows you to disagree with those in office and make your voice heard. Take advantage of this by truly fighting in an active way for what you feel is right and what should be done in the world.