Staff Columnist

There's something happening here: Young people speaking their minds

In Iowa: Whatever your opinions, don't blame teenagers for having their own

Iowa City High freshman Marissa Westfall addresses classmates last Monday at the Old Capitol steps on the University of Iowa campus after walking out of class to protest gun violence and call for gun control. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Iowa City High freshman Marissa Westfall addresses classmates last Monday at the Old Capitol steps on the University of Iowa campus after walking out of class to protest gun violence and call for gun control. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Hey, what’s that sound?

I’ve got that Buffalo Springfield song going through my head. The 1960s protest song “For What It’s Worth” seems like it could have been written for our present moment.

“There’s something happening here. But what it is ain’t exactly clear. There’s a man with a gun over there. Telling me I got to beware … There’s battle lines being drawn. Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong. Young people speaking their minds. Getting so much resistance from behind.”

After the latest horrible massacre of children in Parkland, Fla., where 17 people were murdered, it is children who are leading the way. The survivors of Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are organizing marches, challenging senators and the NRA on television and lobbying their lawmakers. They’re chanting “Not one more,” and organizing a movement.

It’s a movement that’s already spreading.

In Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, students walked out of school last week, chanting things like, “What do we want? Safety!” They are not plugged in but checked out, as so many have accused their generation of being. In fact, they’re using their smartphones and social media feeds to get organized.

In response, these kids are being told to sit down and let the grown-ups talk, been chastised for daring to question authority, been told they’re too young to know what they’re talking about.

Why shouldn’t they question authority? Authority has failed them. And as far as they can tell, none of us so-called adults in the room seem to be doing much more than sending thoughts and prayers.

There are a lot of feelings and opinions out there about guns, about the Second Amendment, about what can or cannot be done to prevent more senseless tragedies like those that happened at Columbine and Sandy Hook, at the Pulse nightclub and the Las Vegas concert.

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But however you feel, whatever your opinions, don’t malign these teenagers for having feelings and opinions of their own and being motivated enough to do something about them. These kids have been called names, been accused of being paid actors, been mocked for their passion. Of course they’re passionate. They watched their friends get shot. We should be more ashamed that the shootings of children don’t evoke such passion in us all.

I’m not saying you have to agree with them. I’m saying, show them some respect. If you must argue, argue on the facts and merits of your opinions, rather than by attacking these young activists for their age.

Young people often are derided for not being active enough citizens, for not voting when they turn 18 and for not being involved.

But these kids are demonstrating they’re ready to be engaged in our democracy, to take on tough issues, to do the hard work demanded of citizens who want change. And we should applaud them for that.

There’s something happening here.

l Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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