February 28, 2018

LIEBERMAN | Teenagers Taking Charge

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In my high school debate class, there was a sign that hung on the wall, reading, “Hire a teenager while they still know everything.” And it was funny, I guess, in the condescending brand of humor that adults like. This piece of decoration was so trivial in the scheme of my life and education but, for some reason, I can’t get it out of my head right now.

In the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, I have found myself asking, “Can teenagers save us?”

It would be an unfair burden to put on the back of these survivors of immense trauma, but they seem to be already picking up the pieces, assuming the responsibility. And what they have accomplished in mere days following the tragedy is absolutely awe-inspiring. So, maybe the answer to the gun-control debate has been to recruit some teenagers all along. Maybe they don’t really know everything, but they seem to know what they are doing right now.

Armed with brave voices, indescribable experiences and a willingness to “make this political,” the shooting survivors have lobbied with a fortitude that seems almost unrecognizable when placed against the backdrop of the slow dredge of American policy change. These students are beyond competent when it comes to social media, being one of the first generations to not know a life without the internet, and this has proved to be an invaluable tool.

These survivors have been able to fire back at critics, politicians, conspiracy theorists and large corporations on Twitter. Their rallying cry can be heard across the world. When I look at someone like Emma Gonzalez, a leading activist, I feel small glimmers of hope creep into my body — an almost irreconcilable sensation, after a moment as dark as a school shooting. But Gonzalez, and her peers, have hope, and it’s contagious.

When the survivors say they are going to be the mass-shooting to end mass-shootings, I want so badly to believe them. They believe in themselves. It is that right there which makes teenagers so powerful: they lack our cynicism. They lack our disenchantment. Most of these activists have never even voted in an election before, but here they are, grabbing the American political system with both hands and demanding that it listen to them. And we are listening.

My younger brother is a high school senior right now. I can’t swallow the lump that builds in my throat when I think about how he is their age; he goes to a school like theirs. In some parallel universe, he could be in their position.

As I watch these teenagers lobby against gun violence, I am inspired by their activism, and I am heartened by their hope. Every political change they spark will be remembered in history. This is the time we recognize that teenagers do know what they’re doing. And we should follow their example.

Sarah Lieberman is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at slieberman@cornellsun.com. Blueberries for Sal appears alternate Thursdays this semester.