Today across America, high school students are expected to walk out of class in their latest show of solidarity against gun violence and elected officials unwilling to do much about it. It marks a grim anniversary — 19 years since Columbine bracketed by the February school massacre in Parkland.
This most recent act of collective civil disobedience by budding activists is making politicians in some corners nervous. It should. It’s impressive. And it’s undeniable.
And by itself, it’s not enough.
With energy and determination, students have rallied for March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. They’ve staged walkouts and helped inspire thoughtful boycotts that have impact. They held a silent and dramatic lie-in at the White House. They’ve spurred interest in getting younger candidates into office — and in voting.
But a Tampa Bay Times report shows voter registration for younger people is actually flat — or even down — in most of Florida’s largest counties.
It was a surprise to learn that even in Broward — the site of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High — 2,700 fewer young people registered to vote than during this same time four years ago. In fact, in six of seven of our biggest counties, a total of 4,500 fewer 16- to 25-year-olds registered to vote than in 2014. Pre-registration by high school kids in Jacksonville was down 90 percent, and registration for college-age citizens in the counties that include Florida State University and the University of Florida are down, too.
No question about it: Voting is not as energizing as protesting, not as instantly empowering as standing up in a public forum and having adults pay attention to what you’re saying. In fact, the act of voting can be a task, a boring grownup job like filling up the car with gas or picking up the dry cleaning.
It’s also — and I am not exaggerating on this — one of the only ways to be heard by the people running the country you live in.
It is the natural order of things that one generation should be puzzled by the next. I know kids who are not all that interested in, say, getting their drivers’ licenses as soon as humanly possible.
But the show of solidarity after this latest pointless shooting? Nothing puzzling about that. It’s been no less than inspirational, the collective voices of young people speaking up and saying enough.
Here is a truth for young protestors: You are making a lot of people who do not want to hear what you’re saying listen to you anyway. You are making them pay attention when, trust me, they would rather not.
Another truth: They are betting on you not to follow through. They are counting on you to get distracted, to not turn your voices into actual votes. They are just waiting you out. That’s their plan, one that’s worked well for them in the past. Trust me on this one, too.
Want to make them more than just nervous? Want actual change?
Do the work. Google the supervisor of elections office in your county. Get registered (or pre-registered) to vote. That card with your name on it won’t be just a task, it’ll be power in your pocket.
Then you can vote your heart for the ones who can’t.