Rise Up: What 1960s Counterculture Can Teach Our Generation About Igniting Change Beyond Social Media

Dear my fellow young Americans:
I am frustrated. I am 16 years old, and I am not old enough to vote, but there are a couple things I know for certain about America. I know that right now we are at a point of immense tension, and in my opinion, nobody seems to be responding appropriately. I look around today, and I see America at a political and social standstill. I see this all around me, and I realize that we are all frustrated.
As I studied U.S. history this year, I was fascinated by the 1960s, when students like us took this yearning for change and made their voices heard in Washington and around the world to stand up for civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights. These students truly felt as though they had no other choice but to make change, and so they did. They felt compelled to fight, and by fight, I mean with people power, not gun power. Fifty years ago, even though all odds were against them, young African-American college students followed the lead of Martin Luther King and desegregated transportation in America to ensure equality for everyone regardless of skin color. Youth movements began to march for a cleaner environment. This was also the time that courageous young women stood outside the white house with signs bearing the words, “I am the face of Pro Choice America.”
Why aren’t people taking to the streets? Are we just lazy? Voices on social media might start a campaign, but what have they really finished? Why don’t we have the same energy as the young people in the 1960s even though there is so much to fight for today? These mass gatherings are the proven techniques to get the attention of Washington and it’s certainly not a coincidence that young people were the leaders of all of these movements. I know some of us can’t vote, but we are all old enough to realize that we need some change in this country right now, and it must be led by young people.
So why is it that we, as the younger generation, hold the power? I believe that it’s because we have the energy of future world leaders, and we hold the real stakes. Even without Twitter, teenagers in the 1960s realized this, and now it is our turn. As a huge fan of Instagram, I hate to say this, but social media isn’t working for political and social activism. It allows us to network, but as Malcolm Gladwell says, the stakes one has on social media aren’t nearly high enough. It doesn’t foster the “high-risk” activism of the 1960s, where you were literally putting your life on the line to stand up for what you know is right. Let’s learn from history, particularly what worked in the not so distant past to reinvigorate activism—what it means to stand up for what you believe in.
Here is the question I want to ask Washington and what I want to urge you to ask as well— why are we halfway through the year and we’ve had 133 mass shootings? We have so much power and energy, and this is where it needs to go. The fight against gun violence is where we need to unite. It puts all of us in jeopardy every day — because 1/3 of the gun deaths happen to people below the age of 20. We have a moral imperative to protest right now. If we take this national issue and take a stand here, perhaps we can solve other global matters as well.
“Rise together or fall separately,” Secretary Clinton said in her speech after the tragic events in Orlando— the biggest mass shooting in U.S. History. Let Orlando serve as a final wakeup call. Let the 49 lives lost serve as the last alarm— that final ring that pierces your ears just before you know you need to wake up or you’re going to miss the bus. Newsflash: the bus is here and it isn’t going to wait for you to drag yourself out of your sleepy haze.
I’m asking you to be disobedient. Don’t just sit back and build a network of supporters on snapchat. Would Jim Crow laws have been abolished if people had tweeted their beliefs
instead of physically sitting down at white lunch counters? Washington listens when the stakes are high, and with social media, they are just not high enough. As a generation we must emulate the energy of the Students for a Democratic society from the 1960s to rise up against gun violence. We must unite for the young adults at the Pulse nightclub, we must unite for the kids at Sandy Hook, and we certainly cannot wait for another massacre where young Americans just like us are targeted. We need to start believing that the change is held within us, because history proves it is. It is vital that we send an urgent message to Washington now. I’m calling for a second march on Washington. I’m calling for sit ins. I’m calling for a freedom summer.
Secretary Clinton observed that “generation after generation [have] fought and marched and organized.” My fellow young Americans, our time to fight and march and organize is now. No one is going to do it for us, our generation holds the power.
– Clara Nevins (redefy contributing author)