Op-Ed: Listen to the voices of America’s youth


Shannon Ahearn

Organizers Gillian Brown, left, and Madison Albano.

Gillian Brown, Staff Writer

Editor’s note: The writer is one of the organizers of the Student Advocacy Initiative, and a staff member of hattersherald.com.

On Wednesday, March 14, students and staff of Danbury High gathered at the front of the building in support of the Never Again movement that has swept across the nation in the wake of the Parkland tragedy.

About 1,000 students participated in our Student Advocacy Initiative. Ideally, it would’ve taken place on the football field where there are stadium speakers, but we made do with the best option we had.

I think the Initiative fulfilled its purpose of honoring the victims of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. Their legacies were remembered with the reading of their bios and each life was honored with the ring of a bell. The Madrigals closed the event with a moving performance of “Amazing Grace.” Part of honoring the victims is ensuring that no one else falls victim to gun violence, so students also did an excellent job of calling for action with their speeches and posters.

Overall, I’m pleased with the outcome. Yes, there were sound issues and the inevitable group of chatty kids, but they were in the minority. I was impressed with how many came out. The majority of students were respectful and supportive. People even brought their own signs. During the speeches, the audience was responsive and encouraging. They cheered, they showed their support. I’m so proud of all the students who volunteered to read speeches or bios. Our speakers delivered. They were passionate and heartfelt. Even some whose volume and confidence I worried about, delivered. Hearing the 17 bios read aloud in front of 1,000 people was powerful. It was really a beautiful moment of solidarity.

It’s difficult not to have a cynical mindset in today’s political climate. But it’s events like this that give me hope for the future. When you see headlines about tens of thousands of teens across the nation participating in similar events, it’s inspiring. It sends a powerful message.

I feel very lucky to have had a supportive administration that believed in the cause. Other districts weren’t so lucky. Even some in the Danbury community were weary of the initiative. Many online commenters voiced their vehement opposition to the event on news websites such as The News-Times. I was again reminded of the ongoing national debate. It baffles me that an event centered on solidarity was misconstrued as an “agenda.”

The comment section was filled with various accusations and name calling. The most extreme example I saw was by a user who compared us to Hitler Youth. I’m sorry to disappoint, but the truth is, we’re not “indoctrinated children” of our “communist” teachers. We are not “puppets” for the administration’s agenda. We are not “sheep.”

The term I’ve seen used the most is “indoctrinated.” To “indoctrinate” means to instruct, to imbue, to brainwash. It connotes involuntary behavior. Many seem to believe that this call to action by teens across the country is some great liberal ploy.

My main issue with this claim isn’t just the inaccuracy and ignorance. It’s the insulting sentiment behind it. It’s demeaning. It discredits all the hard work that went into this event, and the thousands across the nation, that was conducted by students. It depreciates the intelligence of America’s youth. People try to trivialize the voices of teenagers with the front that they’re just mindless parrots, repeating what they hear.

I’d like to be clear: We are not indoctrinated children, accepting beliefs uncritically. It is because we have a critical eye that we are calling for change. We see the problems our country faces and we want to see our leaders taking action. There are more mass shootings in the U.S. than any other country in the world. It’s not just a coincidence. It’s undeniable that we need to make drastic changes.

People don’t want to admit that the problem has escalated to the point where it’s the nation’s children not asking, but demanding change.

The Student Advocacy Initiative was not just an excuse to get out of class, nor were any of the March 14 demonstrations. Our activity was during advisory, a non instructional period. If we really wanted to get out of doing work, why spend weeks organizing a schoolwide event? Why dedicate hours of our own free time after school, on weekends, and during free periods to plan this? Why put so much effort towards something supposedly meaningless to us?

It’s become evident that these hateful attacks and logical fallacies aren’t just unique to the comment section of local news sites; as the gun control debate remains in the national spotlight, politicians and adults continue to disparage the voices of America’s youth. They would rather attack the person than the actual argument.

Yes, we are teenagers. And yes, we’re only in high school. But the instant people begin to trivialize the voices of young people is the instant they marginalize the lives of their own children. Teenagers have a reputation for apathy and laziness, but the instant we speak out for what we believe in, we’re called “indoctrinated,” that we “don’t know what we’re talking about.”

People are scared. And when they get scared, they get irrational. One of the things I’ve noticed in this heated political climate is the loudness. It’s deafening. People want to be heard and for some reason they associate volume with intelligence. So much of our problems would be solved if people took the time to just listen to each other. If people took the time to sit down and really understand the other side, we might actually make progress. Our country would be a much kinder, civil place.

Listen to the voices of the millions of teenagers who are taking a stand against gun violence. Listen to the students of Stoneman Douglas who are confronting their politicians and fighting for common sense legislation. Listen to the kids who are organizing demonstrations across the country to keep this national issue in the spotlight. Listen to all the teenagers who are demanding change. Listen to all the children who mean it when they declare, “Enough is enough.”

You might actually learn something.