The year 2018 has been one of political upheaval and, perhaps surprisingly, much of that unrest has been caused by high school and college students. From the “March for Our Lives” movement, to the historic Juliana v. United States federal court case, to the increased number of students running for public office, high school and college-age students are more politically mobilized than ever before.
In spite of backlash from people who argue that students are neither educated nor mature enough to be making decisions for society as a whole, it’s hugely important for students and teenagers to use their voices to enact positive action.
When people typically imagine young adults getting involved in politics, the first thing that springs to mind is probably voting. There has been a huge push on the part of colleges across the country to register students to vote — UCSB, for example, has the highest number of registered voters at any university in the United States. But if there’s anything that this year has taught us, it’s that there are more ways to show that you care about politics than just through your ballot.
Victims of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida have launched a nationwide campaign to end gun violence, anchored by the well-publicized “March for Our Lives” group.
“March for Our Lives,” which began as a movement centered on gun control, has transformed into a crusade aimed at registering young voters and encouraging them to vote for candidates who support gun control. The face of the movement is a group of survivors, all of whom are high school or college age, who have become nationally recognized activists.
Not all politics, however, focus on gun violence. Making recent headlines is the groundbreaking case of Juliana v. United States, a federal lawsuit filed by 21 young plaintiffs ranging from the ages of 11 to 22. The lawsuit claims that the Trump administration has failed to protect the plaintiffs’ inalienable rights to life, liberty, and property by purposefully refusing to address the irreversible, impending effects of climate change.
According to a New York Times profile of the prosecutor, environmental attorney Julia Olsen, “for older Americans the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change are a problem, but ultimately an abstract one. Today’s children, however, will be dealing with disaster within their lifetimes.” The article goes on to add that the youngest plaintiff, Levi Draheim, will be only 33 in 2040, the year when a United Nations scientific panel estimates that some of the biggest crises will begin.
The argument that climate change may be an abstract issue for adult elected officials, coupled with the fact that most elected officials do not worry about being victims of school shootings, has motivated many candidates under the age of 25 (some of whom are still in college) to run for public office.
21-year-old Brett Ries, candidate for South Dakota’s House of Representatives and student at the University of South Dakota, argues that “traditional experience doesn’t always help when dealing with a generational divide,” insisting that he “wants to help fill the generational gap that exists in … legislature.”
Ries brings up a sobering fact — the average age of elected officials in both chambers of Congress is over 55. Statistics like these should motivate members of our generation to make sure their voices are being heard. This might be a world that belongs to an older generation, but America’s youth is paying the price for their actions.
Regardless of where on the political spectrum you fall, there is a valuable lesson to be learned from the actions of the Parkland students, from Kelsey Juliana, Levi Draheim, or the rest of the plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States, and from candidates like Brett Ries — each of the people mentioned above is choosing to speak up for what they believe in, regardless of the consequences or the cost.