Activism sharpens student leadership

By The Editorial Board

In his legendary Gettysburg Address president, Abraham Lincoln remarked, “ … that [the] government of the people, by the people, [and] for the people shall not perish from the earth.” While Lincoln was speaking quite literally about the survival of the United States, young Americans today seem to be holding their nation to its promise of providing a “government” which acts “for the people.” After the recent massacre in Parkland, Florida, many young students across the nation are using activism to create political change. The Dial Editorial Board commends such student protest.

Student activists throughout the United States have begun to call upon politicians to enact policies that will curtail the degree and frequency of gun violence in America. The Never Again Movement—a gun regulation advocacy movement created by student survivors of the Parkland Shooting—has ignited an explosion of student activism throughout the country.

Young activists have emerged in the Hackley community, too. Juniors Amy Chalan and Matt Fisch serve as leaders of the Progressive Action league and have emerged as loud voices of reform on the Hilltop. In addition, Junior William Goldsmith recently founded the Hackley Gun Control Advocacy League (HGCAL), an organization dedicated to fostering civil discussion on the issue of gun control with hopes of finding a cure for America’s gun epidemic. The HGCAL has a Facebook group consisting of around 160 members from all four grades in the Upper School. And the group has taken part in Hackley’s student-run walkout as well as a roundtable discussion on gun control which took place on April 3, 2018. The roundtable was co-hosted by the Progressive Action League and the Conservatives Club.

While some students may not feel capable of creating real political change, students throughout American history have served as pivotal voices of protest. History Department Chair Bill Davies stated that  “ … we do also have a historical precedent of student-led protest. [We can see examples of such protests] most recently in the United States in the Vietnam era, in which you can attribute not all of the anti-war movement, but of a lot of the energy and public face in the anti-war movement, to student activism …”

And though some students point to the fact that many high schoolers cannot vote and do not live independently as a basis for inaction, young students do indeed have political power. It is also important to note that some students can vote or will be able to vote in the not too distant future. Students can also advocate for their views, and, as illustrated by the David Hogg and Laura Ingraham feud, call for boycotts on companies that do not support their causes.

“Some people think that these walkouts and protests don’t have any real impact, except I think that [protest] is really important, especially in a community like Hackley where people just mimic their parents’ political views,” said senior Ceci Pou.

By becoming engaged in the gun control debate, students are not merely playing important roles in the gun reform movement. Such students are also learning how to become active citizens through the practice of civic engagement. And civic engagement is an integral part of the machine of democracy; Hackley students ought to be well-versed in the complexities of their political system. Students are, after all, the next leaders of our country.

Tangible progress has been made concerning gun control in Florida. After Parkland, the state has passed meaningful gun reform legislation. Journalist Maggie Astor has written recently in The New York Times about Florida’s new gun regulation bill. While the bill does not include an assault-weapons ban, it does prohibit bump stocks and increases “the minimum age for all gun purchases to 21 from 18” (Astor). And John Cassidy of The New Yorker found that the passage of Florida’s gun control bill  “was a direct response to the Never Again movement” (Cassidy).

Walkouts took place at 10:00 am on March 14th across the nation and at Hackley. Skeptics of such a style of activism have suggested that events like walkouts and marches are fruitless ways of creating reform. On the contrary, such criticism neglects the power of public opinion, which has been demonstrated countless times in our history. In fact, Cassidy recently noted in his New Yorker article that “[the Florida bill’s] passage did prove that popular engagement can still have an effect, even in an N.R.A. stronghold such as Florida” (Cassidy). Other reform bills have also been passed since Parkland.

Finally, with regard to the education of students across America and at Hackley in particular, activism can hone students’ skills as debaters and thinkers. But perhaps even more importantly, activism provides young students from all different regions of the US with invaluable leadership experience. And sound and balanced leadership is precisely what America needs to solve issues such as the gun control debate.