by Kelly Segal
Millions of us have become fixated on the band of teens from Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School in Florida as they speak up for gun control with purpose, passion and focus. Somehow, amidst grieving the devastating loss of their classmates–and likely enduring jarring flashbacks of the most horrible day of their lives–they are able to advocate for new gun policies with clear intentions, spelled-out terms, and a direct call for action.
These teens fueled their rage and fear into mobilizing, gathering forces with other young people around the country; they made a point of partnering with students of color impacted by gun violence, such as teens in Chicago whose voices have been utterly ignored by media. Together they invited kids around the country to come out Sunday to “March for our Lives,” demanding gun safety laws and holding politicians accountable for not stepping up. More than 800 protests were planned in every American state, and hundreds of thousands of people of all ages showed up with signs and loud voices, and stepped into their power.
MSD student Emma Gonzalez (see picture below), the 17-year-old at the helm of the pro-gun-control youth movement, now has more Twitter followers (@emma4change, 1.5 million followers) by far than the National Rifle Association. She is followed by celebrities, political icons, and NRA leadership. Emma is joined by classmates: Delaney Tarr (with 125,000 followers), David Hogg (526,000 followers), and Sarah Chadwick (299,000 followers); they are just a few of many MSD students writing and responding to tweets in ways many see as more mature and thoughtful than their own President.
Already their movement, #neveragain, is well funded by influentials such as Oprah and George Clooney, and now that March for Our Lives is over, they are focusing on organizing town halls across the country where politicians will be asked to speak to this issue and held accountable. We are watching major corporations, including Dicks’ Sporting Goods, Delta, Walmart, United, UPS and several others, change business policies in ways that show symbolic separation with the NRA and impact its finances.
Social media is becoming the game-changer
There have been 291 school shootings since 2013; 65 of those were in 2017, and the shooting that took place on February 14th at MDS was the 8th shooting since the beginning of 2018 that resulted in injury or death. We’ve watched over and over on television and internet as our schoolchildren run, or are carried, from their classrooms, sneaker soles slicked with blood. We’ve seen thousands of candles flicker as vigils run loop-like to honor slain students, teachers, and first responders. Parents plea from lecterns, politicians shout in rooms, while our doe-eyed youth, arms entangled, walk shaky-legged back into schools.
Cut to silence. Well, first there was silence, and a little while later there was the debate as to whether mental illness or lax gun laws are to blame. That debate might be an interesting one, but it serves as an impediment to action. The conversation gets chewed like cud while hardly a step is taken to provide additional protection to our children in the place they should be safest: their school.
So what’s different about this time?
There is no question that one of the huge differences about the MSD tragedy is that the youth who experienced it are old enough to channel their rage into demanding change, using their command and years of social-media experience. They are thoughtful, articulate, and unstoppable. Since the shooting, their reach through social media platforms has been efficient in its immediacy and powerful in its message, reaching the world right at the moment of emotional apex.
The timing of the shooting, on the heels of the #metoo and #timesup movements, can’t be discredited. In mid-February, the country was still reeling from the fact that social media campaigns brought down some of the most powerful figures in business, entertainment and media. Girls and women are using social media to bust open national conversations ignored and hushed by our biggest policy-makers.
MEDIAGIRLS is helping to pave the way
Recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to be introduced to the nonprofit organization MEDIAGIRLS. Through their thoughtful system of pairing up college students (Mentors) with middle-school girls, MEDIAGIRLS teaches girls and young women to think critically about sexist media messaging; know their self-worth; and harness the power of the media for positive change.
College Mentors, the first generation to grow up inundated with social media, are teaching the next generation to use Instagram, Snapchat and other platforms to support and encourage other girls and women, and advocate for themselves. Teen girls spend approximately three hours a day on social media; instead of telling them to get off of it (they won’t), MEDIAGIRLS teaches them how to use it for social good and to step into their own power. There is no question that girls use social media more than boys, and currently take an emotional hit for it. Check out the YouTube videos below to see examples of how MEDIAGIRLS teaches girl to speak up in positive ways using YouTube and Instagram.
When I look at the ability of young people to affect a goliath like the NRA using the power of social media, and the power of #metoo and #timesup, I’m excited to see what other positive impact girls and young women can have with this powerful social-media tool! After all, it’s girls that own the majority of keys to the social-media queendom. I can’t think of a more important time to help young girls and women use this tool for social good, paving the way to a more just society for all of us.