Call them anything but apathetic

By: 
Staff Writer Kate Wehlann

Jacki Azcuy, who didn't speak during the meeting on March 9, shares a hug with sophomore Leah Scott and senior Tyasia Gant after the meeting.

It’s whined about every generation: Teens are apathetic about what really matters. The young adults don’t vote. They don’t care about politics. They’ve taken civics out of the schools because ISTEP only cares about math and language arts!

“They’re just kids.”

“They don’t know anything.”

Still, I know by experience my generation and the ones that follow mine have been fed a steady diet of characters in books, TV and movies that have taken a stand and used their voices to champion causes they believed important. We saw our role models in the pages of fiction and the pages of newspapers, on the big screen and the small. We finally felt like we had a voice and after a little throat clearing, the younger generations have started to sing and it doesn’t sound like our parents and grandparents like the song. That’s expected.

Parents teach their kids to be brave, to stand up for what they believe is right, to fight for the cause worth fighting for.

So why are kids being mocked and threatened for it? Why is the First Amendment so frightening in the hands of youth?

These kids are too mouthy, they say, too loud, too disruptive, too aggressive in their message, too disrespectful, too too. However, those voices are quiet or even jubilant when teens are speaking out in favor of the common Boomer/Traditionalist positions.

Sure, teens know there will be views that oppose theirs. They’re willing to debate. The students of Parkland, Florida, when they began their roar for more restrictive gun laws, knew they would receive backlash from across the nation. But the all-out lies and death threats they’ve received because they dared to use their voices to speak up about something they were passionate about is just grievous.

A further point: if you’re sending death threats to teenagers — kids — or even other adults because of their views, you are likely one of the people who shouldn’t have firearms. It’s fine to be angry, but that kind of disrespect for life should be a big red flag.

There’s a difference between debating and shouting down someone who disagrees with you. If shouting is the weapon of choice, it doesn’t make sense to get mad when your opponent comes back with the same weapon.

The issue of the Salem Community Schools building project has caused quite a stir in the area. Opinions are strong and debate is pretty hot. However, watching Leah Scott, Tyasia Gant and Breawna Rice speak up during a public meeting on why they felt the school needed a band and choir room made me so proud. Regardless of what my or anyone else’s beliefs about this are, these girls were brave. They were surrounded by adults their parents’ age, people they were likely taught were automatic authority figures whose views they knew likely opposed their own and they spoke up anyway. Gant, especially, who is a senior and won’t benefit from any of these projects as a student, exemplified the kind of leadership that seeks to benefit those who come after her, not just herself.

To say I’m very impressed with these young ladies is an understatement. They spoke up respectfully. Calmly. Two of them followed meeting procedure by signing up before speaking, something more than one adult didn’t do.

I was told later that members of the community tried to shame these girls after the meeting. Perhaps this was because these girls are still teens and don’t have property taxes to pay. “They won’t be affected, so they shouldn’t have a say,” is, frankly, a terrible argument. Men in Washington D.C. who were born with silver spoons in their mouths and are so out of touch with their constituencies they might have trouble locating them on a map make laws that affect you and not them every day. These girls should not be shamed for simply speaking up about something they care about.

You can’t have it both ways. Teens should use what they’ve learned of civics to speak their minds and engage as citizens or they should be seen and not heard. Pick one. Teens are people, not parrots, and it’s wrong to force them to stay silent or only repeat views they don’t hold.

You don’t have to agree with them, but you don’t get to shout them down because they’re “just” kids.

kate@salemleader.com, @KateWehlann

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