‘Keep fighting’: Why young Americans continue to stand up for causes, protests


Photo by Anthony Merriweather / MTSU Sidelines Archive

In the face of social and political crossroads, thousands of young citizens have decided to make their voices heard in recent years. Between the Women’s Marches, the “MeToo” movement and the recent protests for stricter gun laws in America, a surplus of causes has been created by and for the young citizens of the nation.

The Crowd Counting Consortium, a public interest project in which researchers document protest crowds, found that over 8,700 protests have been carried out in the U.S. between Jan. 2017 and Dec. 2017. According to USA Today, an estimated 800,000 participated in the student-led March For Our Lives Washington protest on March 24, making it the largest single-day protest that the capital has seen yet. Within that same month, thousands of high and middle school students participated in school walkouts in protest of gun violence. And, some experts have said that this is anything but a trend.

Larry Isaac, the chair of the Department of Sociology at Vanderbilt University, said that his best guess is that many will keep marching into the near future.

“Some of the participants in these movements get caught up in the heat of the moment, but being involved in a movement is hard work,” Isaac said. “It takes time, and it takes effort. So, some people will drop away, but others will become hard-core and keep the fire going. My best guess is that the size of the activity will fluctuate over the years, but it will remain a hard-core (movement) for some time … I’m not terribly optimistic that many of these issues will be resolved in the short-run, and that’s why you have to keep fighting.”

Isaac said that a large amount of the increased activity is due to the current political climate in the country.

“A lot of the recent protest activity that we’ve seen across the country and around the world was stimulated by the Trump administration,” Isaac said. “We’ve seen a big surge since that election.”

Isaac, who currently teaches a course on social movements and change in the 1960s at Vanderbilt, also stated that much of the participation in social change is influenced by leaders of the past.

“I think a lot of young people have picked up information or taken courses about protests of the past and have been inspired by what young people did in earlier points of time,” Isaac said. “And then, they see things that are really problematic today, and they say, ‘Well, we should do this too.’ I think there’s a definite long-term relationship between early movements and more contemporary movements.”

Shelby Stewart, an MTSU sophomore who has participated in the 2017 and 2018 Women’s Marches in Nashville and a March For Our Lives protest in Clarksville, said that the importance of young people participating in activism is directly tied to their ability to enact change in America.

“I think one of the important parts of getting involved in activism is that you are more likely to vote, and right now, the voter turnout for people in college, like ages 18 to 29, is some of the lowest voter turnout rates,” Stewart said. “And, I think that the more involved you are in activism and the more loud and proud you are, the more likely you are to vote. And, that is the most direct way to enact change in this country.”

Stewart echoed the belief that Trump’s election was a major turning point for many younger citizens of the country.

“I think the 2016 election definitely changed things,” Stewart said. “No matter how old you were, you were constantly affected by it. You constantly heard what was being said. You constantly heard what was going on in the election. So, it brought politics into the limelight for people much younger than it has in previous elections.”

Stewart said that she was led to participate in the March For Our Lives event after being affected by the news of the now infamous mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“I have a bunch of news apps on my phone, so I get notifications from CNN, Associated Press and all those places,” Stewart said. “When I got a notification that there was a shooting in Florida, I wasn’t even surprised about it. I just kind of looked at it and closed my phone and went on with my life. I think it’s really sad that that was my reaction to a school shooting … Thinking about something like that that could have happened to me while I was in high school, it really made me want to voice my opinion and try to make a difference.”

Shawn Zheng, another young activist and a senior at Central Magnet School in Murfreesboro, participated in the school walkout that occurred at the school in March in protest of gun violence. Zheng walked out with his classmates during the school day and played his French horn in memoriam of victims of shootings and violence in the U.S.

“The gun violence situation in the United States is absolutely absurd, sickening and saddening,” Zheng said. “I participated in the walkout to both highlight this absurdity and to memorialize all victims of gun violence through music. As a musician, I feel a sense of duty as a “citizen artist” to contribute to my community, especially in times of need, and to share art as a form of social commentary and protest. Music is played at funerals, weddings, sporting events, church, etc. These are all events with atavistic human characteristics. There is tremendous power in music and art.”

Zheng said that every young American should be working toward a change in regards to gun control and stricter regulation

“Gun violence is an especially personal issue for many young Americans, as the recent and unfortunately continuing situations of violence at schools is easily relatable to our own lives,” Zheng said. “Many people of all ages are realizing that gun violence and gun regulation is not and should not be a partisan issue.”

With more and more people realizing the issues as personal and worth the effort, Zheng believes that the causes will only be strengthened and young voices will be heard that much more as the years go by.

“Though the voter turnout for millennials is the lowest out of all age groups, I am confident that, with continued widespread engagement, we will see increased progress in the coming years,” Zheng said.

To contact News Editor Caleb Revill, email newseditor@mtsusidelines.com.

For more news, follow us at www.mtsusidelines.com, on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter at @Sidelines_News.

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