On Saturday survivors, parents, teachers, celebrities, and students all joined forces to send Congress a clear message: political action must be taken immediately to address the issue of gun violence and to ensure the safety our nation’s children. March For Our Lives was unique in that it was inspired, initiated, and implemented by students our age. Student activism has appeared repeatedly throughout history — for example, in American college students’ role in the Civil Rights Movement and in the protests against the Vietnam War, and South African college students’ fight against apartheid — but it has never been so passionately executed at the secondary school level. Now, the leaders are from our generation; they are high school students who have decided that their words don’t have to be just words, and that their passion is not temporary.
But this call for change runs the risk of once again being ignored and overlooked by the majority of our N.R.A.-backed lawmakers. This is because many young voters are not demonstrating the commitment and turnout required to make change on election day. Unfortunately, no matter how much passion and resilience the student participants at the march demonstrate, a majority of them are not yet eligible to vote. When we do reach voting age, however, we must not fall into the same detrimental routine as that of past young voters by failing to show up and follow through. Following March 24, 2018, our generation must embark on a new, figurative march: one whose goal is to eliminate the apathy and ignorance among voters, particularly young voters.
According to a study released by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, only 21.3 percent of Americans, or around ten million Americans, of all ages turned out to vote in the 2014 midterm elections. Furthermore, according to NPR, Americans between the ages of 18 and 35 comprise roughly 31 percent of the electorate, yet they continue to have the lowest turnout of any age group. This may be attributed to the fact that younger voters feel as if they do not have enough societal influence to facilitate change. Additionally, “The Economist” suggests that young people who do not have children and/or do not own property are much less likely to be interested in how schools and hospitals are run, and whether parks and libraries are maintained, making them less likely to vote.
The process for policy reform in the United States can only be achieved through ordinary citizen participation. The key to political clout and actual change is not to rely exclusively upon congresspeople, senators, N.R.A.- backed politicians, and businessmen but rather upon ordinary citizens exercising their unparalleled right to choose leaders who stand for crucial causes — in this case, stricter and common-sense gun control.
At the end of the day, marches show strength, but strength is not enough. Signs raise awareness, but they are not ballots. Speeches spread compassion, but compassion does not elect leaders; votes do. We must view school walkouts and nationwide marches as the beginning of change, not the end — if we do, we have already lost. Nothing has changed, and nothing will change until student activism correlates with student votes and participation in the electoral process. Our work has just begun.
The November midterm elections will provide us with a rare opportunity and platform to implement meaningful gun reform, such as requiring a background check for all gun buyers, no matter where the gun is purchased — a law that 84 percent of Americans already support, according to Politifact. From California to South Carolina, Democratic and Republican candidates with a spectrum of positions pertaining to gun regulations have challenged elected officials. Some politicians have pledged to lobby for an outright ban on military-style assault weapons, while others have projected an interest in closing the loophole on sales at gun shows and implementing sensible gun laws. Now, young voters have been entrusted with the responsibility of ousting N.R.A.-backed office holders by electing a new wave of legislators. The candidates have stepped up, and the opportunity to enact change has presented itself. The only thing left to do is recognize whether or not our generation is ready to take it.
Adin McAuliffe is a two year Lower from West Palm Beach, Fla. Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.