When I was in school, I gave myself plenty of reasons to remain an observer to the different social movements that sprung up like #OccupyWallStreet and #BlackLivesMatter. Of course, after the U.S. elections in 2016, I shared the anxiety for the future of my country and the sense that I had to do something; but I was also still in the process of reacting to other plethora of bad news from that year. When a counter protester in Charlottesville intentionally ran over marchers in 2017, I knew I couldn’t just go alone. So when Peace Direct said they were going to attend the March for Our Lives, I immediately agreed before my regular excuses and hesitations could have their say.
As I approached the Wiehle-Reston Station around 10 a.m. that morning, I felt a thrill to see a crowd forming – kids in strollers pushed by their parents, groups of friends, elderly couples – carrying signs with expressions of excitement and determination. This thrill grew as more people gathered into the Metro, and I could feel that everyone shared this positive buzz. Now, as a regular of public transit, I know the etiquette: don’t bother anyone else. But once again, this energy, this excitement of knowing we shared a common destination and a common goal made it easier to open up and talk to the stranger beside me. In fact, I overheard many people sharing their experiences of past movements with each other.
A Facebook status – even a well written and compelling one – may get a lot of likes and shares online, but holding your beliefs on a sign and walking through the streets of the nation’s capitol is a whole different experience. The frustration over poor gun control, despite the growing regularity of shootings in America – now on average 1.4 shootings a week this year (via CNN) – was made tangible and impossible to ignore. You could comment on the topic in a forum or on a thread, but then easily scroll to the next post or article and the momentum is lost. Marching in protest pulls you away from the screen and brings you together with actual people. To be present with these survivors of gun violence and to bear witness to their testimonies and calls for change humanized the movement for me, which although I empathized with, I still felt distant from in my day to day reality.
Seeing and hearing the high-pitched voices of the teens and children speaking passionately about common-sense gun reform gave me mixed emotions. I felt hope for the future – the future that belongs to this generation, but I also felt a restlessness. Once upon a time, before we were labelled Millennials, my generation was the bright future of America. As a kid, I believed that racism was over, that the Cold War ended, and that, there would be nothing but progress in our government that would keep America as exceptional as they taught me in my social studies class. In my teens, I believed that in the future, my generation would be rising to levels of leadership where we could put right any outdated, leftover laws that prevented equality and welfare for everyone. But here we are now, still in the hands of leaders unwilling to let go of their power to secure their own welfare in the status quo. If they’re unwilling to hand it to us, will it be the same for this next generation calling out our lawmakers financed by the NRA?
At least this rising generation isn’t having it – David Hogg, one of the survivors from the Parkland shooting and familiar face in the media ever since, came after the leaders who deferred discussion on gun reform: “When politicians send their thoughts and prayers with no action, we say, ‘No more.’ And to those politicians supported by the NRA, that allow the continued slaughter of our children and our future, I say get your resumes ready.” The March for Our Lives demonstration reminded the world of the power in youth-led initiatives, and we can see its potential worldwide. Around the globe, there are plenty of other movements that empower the rising generation to participate in their community and contribute to civil society.
In Pakistan, the Sindh Community Foundation encourages young adults to participate in the development of their community, with a focus on democracy, human rights, and peace. In Sierra Leone, the Youth Partnership for Peace and Development understands that decisions made within the community are not reserved for older generations; there is much to learn from youth as well. The goals of these initiatives is to empower young adults by offering them opportunities to lead on issues of advocacy, enterprise, and building livelihoods so that they may already begin to see themselves as positive agents for change in their communities.
I wish there was a way to collect the positive energy I encountered during the march and make use of it the next time I feel helpless against the next human tragedy bound to appear in the barrage of news and commentary on my newsfeed. Because by simply standing there, amongst the 200,000 others in support of the same cause is a positive and powerful thing; a facet of democracy that I have long known about, but only now physically participated. I am glad to have finally made it to the party, but even more so, I am proud of the younger generation who came, who held their signs, and spoke with eloquent conviction and emotion against those in power who continue to do nothing. To show up and participate in person beats a reactionary post on social media any day.
Peace Direct has been monitoring the March for Our Lives movement carefully in its efforts to collect information, garner support, and connect groups working for peace across the U.S. with its recent mapping tool, the U.S. Peace Mapping initiative.