The world has, indisputably, become more vocal.
And it’s not just because we have immense access to content, or the convenience of sharing through the touch of a screen, and that our gateway to the world can be one instastory, one tweet, or one snapchat away.
Heading to the Big Apple for a partners visit last week, I was a little apprehensive of the terrain that I’ll be going into. After all, this is a country that is going through such a season of volatility and change — just 280 characters from the POTUS sends a media wave reverberating across the globe, daily.
Life has a way of presenting juxtaposes in your path to you reflect upon your beliefs. What caught me by (pleasant) surprise, was the absolute privilege of being in the city right in the midst of March For Our Lives. Here’s to share a bit of what made me come home, really illuminated.
March For Our Lives
On 14 February 2018, a shooting struck Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida. A gunman stormed into school and killed 17 students and teachers in a 6 minute 20 second rampage. The tragedy not only shook the world with outrage, but also sowed a very deep seed in the minds of the survivors of this incident and their immediate community.
35 days to start a movement
The students shortly decided that prayers and support for victim’s families were not enough for them, and a core group of youth from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School organised themselves in a directed effort to advocate for tighter gun legislative laws — one that culminated in the March For Our Lives.
In a mere 5 weeks, the march brought together:
- at least 2 million people in more than 800 March For Our Lives protests across the country and the world.
- 3.3 million: Tweets sent with the #MarchForOurLives hashtag
- 387: U.S. congressional districts across the country that saw marches
- 104: solidarity marches outside the U.S.
- 800,000 attended the march in Washington, D.C. alone, making it the largest single-day protest in the history of the nation’s capital
(Courtesy: Fast Company: #MarchForOurLives by the numbers)
Many voices, one message
This was one of the most inclusive activism efforts I’ve seen. In the march, rallies and media representation, the most diversified pool of individuals came together for one cause. African-American students and minority races joined the march; family members of the victims, teachers, parents and their children, members of the public — even tourists — were represented amongst the march crowds. Even celebrities and media personalities made their contributions through pledges and commentaries. (see the response by former President Barack Obama).
The youngest rally speaker Naomi Wadler, aged 11, delivered her speech to the Washington D.C. march crowd.
Teens take centre stage
This march and campaign was birthed and led entirely by young people. Starting with only 3 friends in their teens, the trio quickly grew their core team and recruited key members to join their cause. The youth organised themselves and developed a clear call of action for their activism efforts. Their rally for help was extremely concerted — they sought out journalism seniors, survivors of school shooting incidents, youth across diversity profiles etc etc. They utilised media — tweets, online posts and videos — to capture the support of the youth and online audience. They told personal stories with conviction and sincerity, and roped in their peers to join them in taking a stand. Their efforts have delivered nothing short of a world class movement.Check out this speech by Cameron Kasky.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead
A seed of change
Seeing the teens going up onto a stage to deliver their own speeches, handwritten on school notebooks and scraps of paper, vocalising their thoughts and making a stand on what they believe was nothing short of humbling (Granted, in the open culture of the US we also see a more liberal use of certain forceful vocabulary :P).
In these young people, I saw how the seeds of grief and anger, can develop into a conviction that will influence change; how a glimmer of discontent with status quo, can become a fire that lights a campaign. A single voice can indeed kickstart a ripple effect that fuels great hope, amidst challenge and tragedy.
What does this really mean for us as supporters of youth? I believe there are a couple of things that we, as stewards of our young people, can learn from in order to enable them to create change.
1. Trust in their potential, but help them channel their passions and convictions into meaningful energy
This movement could have been just another social media war, a series of lambasting verbal battles that drag every other frivolous commentary in its tailspin, or turned into an angry act of violence or riot. But it wasn’t. It was an organised and coordinated march of solidarity. The students didn’t want mere “thoughts and prayers”, so they delivered other proactive solutions within their means to rally for change. As said by a district superintendent, “The students in Florida have just really lit a flame in our kids that I don’t know that they’ve ever felt before in terms of a particular social issue.”.
Youth have their inner passions and convictions. Sometimes all we need to do is help them channel their innate potential for change, into meaningful, positive endeavours.
2. Give youth a stage, but teach them to carry the weight of responsibility for their own endeavours
Groups of adults have been silently supporting the youth in their rally efforts. Instead of having taken over the movement as more experienced organisers, the support community gave the youth ample space, limelight and platforms to lead and make decisions for themselves. In areas of where adult council and supervision were needed, the adults came together to lend their support.
Giving the youth the full autonomy to drive this movement, also meant that they had to take full responsibility for their words, actions and decisions made. While being at the forefront, these young activists have to learn to bear the heat and pressure from opposition forces, to handle naysayers and experience outright challenge to their beliefs and actions. The march could have failed, unthoughtful ranting by their peers could have tainted the campaign message and intents. But a responsible leader will bear them all, the good, bad and the ugly.
3. Give youth a space to fail, but focus on playing the role as an evolving supporter of their journey
The younger generation of today will grow into a very different world, with different social and economic roles, facing very different challenges from us. And while we constantly go back to the old adage of letting them fail and fail forward, I think we also ought to examine our own role — one that is also constantly evolving — as good supporters to their learning endeavours.
There may be setbacks; you may sometimes feel like progress is too slow in coming. But we have no doubt you are going to make an enormous difference in the days and years to come, and we will be there for you.
— the Obamas, in response to the March For Our Lives
In tumultuous times, some of the most meaningful support that we can offer is not that of giving solutions and answers, but one of guiding thought processes and nurturing timeless values. For what’s even more valuable than pulling off a movement like this, is to know that our youths have learnt how to go about stand up for something that is not right, in a meaningful and grounded manner, to attain change.
At home ground, what’s next?
As a member of the youth development community in Singapore, it is impossible to not beg the question — what about our Singaporean youth? I certainly don’t wish we would ever face a calamity as severe as this for our youth to rise up, but I certainly hope that in times of need, our youth will step up with the same type of maturity, stead and resolve in standing up for what’s right.
We cannot rest on our laurels. But take every opportunity to build that inner character and mindset in our youth, a strong foundation for a generation of great promise.
We are moving forward . There’s still much to do (and particular to work on ourselves), but I know there’s much hope if we all set our eyes on the prize and continue to press ahead.
Want to do more? Want to reach out and play a part in becoming an effective and responsible youth influencer? Reach out to Halogen and get involved!
(Ivy Tse is the Chief Executive Officer of Halogen Foundation, a youth development non-profit organisation focusing on building young leaders and entrepreneurs. As a strategist and a builder for the organisation, Ivy brings her roots from a multinational corporation to that of the non-profit sphere. Ivy is a Double Degree Graduate & Global Merit Scholar from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and also a recipient of the NUS Eminent Business Alumni Award in 2016. Drop Ivy a message here to speak to her about your interest in the youth sector!)