Will Parkland Student Activists Define America’s Younger Generation?

05 June, 2018

More than three months after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the survivors who became gun-control activists may be deciding how their generation will be remembered.

Carolyn Davis is with the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonprofit organization that studies religion, culture and public policy.

She spoke with VOA about the history of student activism in the United States.

She said,"It's the beginning of something really, really compelling -- a new generation of political movement."

She added, "You look at the civil rights movement, you look at the anti-war movement. These are movements led by students, led by young people, so there's precedence for this. Suffrage and the American Revolution, in large part, were fought by people about this age."

Seventeen people died in the February 14 shooting at Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Students celebrate at the end of the March for Our Lives event in Washington, D.C., March 24, 2018.
Students celebrate at the end of the March for Our Lives event in Washington, D.C., March 24, 2018.

Effect of "die-in" protests on Florida politics

David Hogg has become one of the most well known of Parkland's student activists. He recently announced a boycott of Publix food stores. He made the announcement after learning the company had donated money to a man hoping to become Florida's next governor. The candidate, a member of the Republican Party, is a supporter of the National Rifle Association, a gun rights group.

Hogg and other student activists organized a "die-in" protest. Students lay on the floor of several Publix stores in the state to create the appearance of students killed by gun violence.

On May 25, Publix announced it was halting all political donations.

Hogg told VOA in March, "This is the beginning of us taking back our democracy and revolutionizing America for the better."

On social media, Hogg often declares, "The young people will win." Carolyn Davis says that kind of hope is a sign of the young generation.

College student Haley Fleming told VOA that the student movement is just getting started.

She said,"People this age are going to start voting in the next few years. They'll be voting in the next presidential election and every election after that, and then they'll start running for Congress and that's when this movement is really going to take shape."

That kind of directed, political thinking is fairly common for the post-millennial generation, notes William Frey of the Brookings Institution, a research center in Washington.

He said, "They kind of look at the rest of us older people as something to push aside. Not in a bombastic way, but basically just sort of shrug their shoulders and say, ‘Let's move on from all of this.'"

Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School student David Hogg speaks as demonstrators lie on the floor at a Publix Supermarket in Coral Springs, Fla., May 25, 2018.
Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School student David Hogg speaks as demonstrators lie on the floor at a Publix Supermarket in Coral Springs, Fla., May 25, 2018.

Millennials and post-millennials

Just who belongs to the post-millennial generations is open to debate. Davis describes anyone between the ages of 15 and 24 as a post-millennial. But the Pew Research Center says anyone born from 1997 to the present is part of this generation. The oldest among them turn 21 in 2018. (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/03/01/defining-generations-where-millennials-end-and-post-millennials-begin/) William Frey defines post-millennials as anyone born in 1998 to the present -- people aged 20 and below.

This generation has been given several names, including Gen Z, Digital Generation, iGeneration and #Generation. Yet nothing has stuck in the same way the term "millennials" has for the generation before them.

"From what we can see, they're very liberal, they're very democratic in terms of their political expectations," said Frey. He added that, compared to their own parents or millennials, post-millennials appear to be more liberal.

"The tricky thing about post-millennials is they're not yet fully formed."

The politics of post-millennials

When it comes to politics, young people are deeply divided along racial lines, the PRRI study found. About one-third of young white people say they are supporters of President Donald Trump. But support for Trump among blacks, 5 percent, and Hispanics, 17 percent, in the same age group is much lower.

A recent PRRI survey attempted to identify the most critical issues facing post-millennials. It named the top three issues as jobs and unemployment, terrorism and the cost of higher education.

Over the years, the United States has become an increasingly more diverse country. Efforts to increase diversity are generally welcomed across all post-millennial demographic groups, but less so among young white men.

Carolyn Davis said, "While this is the most diverse generation, there is no guarantee that they're going to politically be of one mind."

I'm Jonathan Evans. And I'm Anna Matteo.

Dora Mekouar reported this story for VOANews. George Grow adapted her report for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.


Words in This Story

compellingadj. forceful or persuasive

precedencen. the act of coming earlier in time

suffrage – n. the right to vote

millennial – n. a person born in the 1980s or 1990s

bombasticadj. wordy

shrug – v. to raise and lower one's shoulders, usually to show you do not care about something

petitionn. an official request or appeal to an official or organization

diverse adj. different from each other

demographicadj. related to the study of changes that take place in large groups of people

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