The only way to make real change is to vote

It was a moment of empowerment – I walked through D.C., poster in hand, anti-gun pins buttoned on my jacket, surrounded by young people who felt as strongly as I did. I felt empowered, I felt important, and I felt proud.

It was March 24 and I had driven up to D.C. for the March for Our Lives along with an estimated 200,000 other students, teachers, and parents. It should have been a moment of seclusion, reflection, and unity.

And then I head the opening bars of Kesha’s “Don’t Stop”

Immediately the focus felt off. What did Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, and Kesha really have to say about gun control?

A protest is supposed to convey feelings of justice and, in this case, mourning for MSD as well as low-income communities with lesser amounts of gun control.

The concept of this protest had turned into an opportunity for adults and media to prey on young adults through entertainment and production.

By adding pop performers and “fun” graphics throughout the protest, it felt less biting and honest.

The way we, as teenagers protesting, were being marketed was through the eyes of adults looking down on us.

It was difficult for me to truly hear and comprehend the powerful messages from the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and other lower-income areas preached, these messages were ultimately misconstrued by the glitz and production of the “march”.

It should not be an environment that makes one comfortable or happy or secure.

All of these feelings should be evoked in the policy one is trying to change; however, this change (and ultimately, happiness) cannot be expected while the policy is being protested.

There were moments while the students spoke and powerful messages could be clearly heard while the crowd chanted or cheered in agreement with the speaker.

There were distinct surges of power brought about by 11-year-old Naomi Wadler speaking on the violence against black women, Parkland survivor David Hogg addressing issues in the government, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s granddaughter Yolanda Renee King dreaming of a gun-free world.

However, this power cannot be slighted by the adults who attempt to make light of the student-led protests or the massive amounts of people who attended the march simply for the entertainment.

We are fighting for our rights, not their attention.

Post your photo of your march sign, rally people through Twitter and Instagram, and hold value in the strength of teenagers banding together. Do not, however, get the message misconstrued.

We are not doing this for our Instagram, we are not doing this to listen to artists perform, and we are not doing this for fun. The March for Our Lives was about our lives (or, if policy continues unchanged, the lack thereof).

Going to the march was the first step, and we must take pride and power in our baby steps. Baby steps, however, will not change policy. Action, voting, and clear-minded steps will change policy.

The impact of change, no matter the change you are fighting for, begins on a local level. Voting in local elections and changing those who make an impact within your community is the most impactful way to create an environment and a country in which you feel safe and represented.

This was most recently exemplified in the 2017 Gubernatorial Election for Virginia. According to an analysis of exit polls by Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University, 34 percent of registered young voters (ages 18-29) came out to vote, with a majority supporting Democrat Ralph Northam. This can be compared to 17 percent of youths in the 2009 Gubernatorial Election.

The voices of young people heard in the 2017 governor’s race now have the opportunity to be heard, louder than ever, at the mid-term elections. If, in large numbers, young people support the areas in which we feel most passionate about, we will be able to become truly represented within our society.

We can march, we can scream, we can even watch the performances of our favorite pop stars who quietly support the same policy as us. Our beliefs and policy requirements will not be influential without our votes and without our support.

Letting the media and older generations squash our power by making it something trivial will only be slighted by the power for young adults to vote.

We have shown our faces. Now let them hear our voices.

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©2018 Eagles' Eyrie - the school newspaper for Mills E. Godwin High School in Henrico, VA

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