In February 2018, America saw its third-worst school shooting in history at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. In the wake of the tragedy, the teenage survivors have sought to mobilize the country both online and off. We explore the insights behind how Gen Z are starting to hold adults to account.
Sarah Chadwick, a 16-year-old MSD student, was among the first to condemn President Donald Trump. “I don’t want your condolences you fucking piece of shit, my friends and teachers were shot. Prayers won’t fix this. But gun control will prevent it from happening again,” she wrote in a tweet that received more than 346,000 likes and 144,000 retweets. At an anti-gun rally in Fort Lauderdale, 18-year-old Emma González became a figurehead in the debate when she gave an 11-minute speech that called ‘BS’ on complicit institutions, including the White House and the NRA. And alongside his fellow survivors, 17-year-old Cameron Kasky launched #NeverAgain, a social media movement for stricter gun control laws, which has raised more than $3 million dollars through a GoFundMe campaign.
These actions saw MSD students dominate mainstream media in the aftermath of the shooting, appearing on radio and TV talk shows, and garnering the support of celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Amal Clooney. They encouraged peers across the nation to organize impromptu walkouts in solidarity, and on the 24th of March 2018, their activism will culminate in an estimated 500,000 people taking part in the March for Our Lives in Washington DC
Older generations are taking a defensive approach to gun violence, with the burgeoning body armor industry – which is worth $465 million a year and is set to reach $5.7 billion globally by 2024 – highlighting how some people are beginning to see protective clothing as a necessity. Yet as the March for Our Lives shows, Gen Z are less inclined to sit back and take individual precautions as politics play out. While one in five teens are unsure of their political affiliation, their lack of party allegiance doesn’t mean they’re apathetic. “Around the globe, wherever we look closely at social movements, we find that some of the most ‘invisible’ young people are also the most active, engaged, and creative in movement strategy and tactics, as well as media production and use,” writes Sasha Costanza-Chock, an associate professor of civic media at MIT.
Gen Zers are skeptical of existing institutions, seeing them as ineffectual, corrupt, and out of touch with their interests. Just 6% of them trust large-scale institutions to do the right thing, compared to 60% of older generations. The issue of gun violence is no exception; they’re seven times more likely than adults to list gun violence as the most important problem facing the US. This young cohort may have been too young to vote in the 2016 election, but their fearless engagement with politicians and the media hints at the powerful force they’re destined to be.
Alex Quicho is Canvas8’s Americas editor. Born in Boston and raised in Manila, she loves to read and write about art, power, and the future. She has a master’s degree in critical writing from the Royal College of Art.