Generation Z jumping into politics earlier

By Ebony Graham

The sound of honking horns and drums filled the cool spring air. A hundred people — some holding signs, others banging drums — walked in a silent protest. Philadelphia officials piled into St. John’s Evangelist Church to speak to the crowd.

This grand event was the brainchild of fifth graders. The event was spearheaded by the Jubilee Charter School in West Philadelphia.

With each generation, the youth start to get involved in politics earlier and earlier. Children are no longer staying in a child’s place. Even babies on their parent’s shoulders clutch signs with highly political statements. It is not a rarity to see teenagers with a pack of their friends protesting things that they see as unfair or a threat to their freedom.

One such teenager is 16-year-old Eliza Murphy, a Julia R. Masterman High School sophomore, who protested because of the current political landscape. “Especially right now, with Trump, a lot of rights are being taken away from people, not even just women, like the Muslim ban. It’s just wrong,” she said.

Times have changed. It was 50 years ago during the Civil Rights Movement that parents abhorred the idea of their children protesting.

An example of this was the Birmingham Children’s Crusade of 1963. Parents wanted their children to have no part in protesting police brutality and segregation that was commonplace in the South throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The children defied their parents and stood up for what they thought was right. They were met with dogs and water hoses. But, the children prevailed and their protest has an impact on Birmingham and the nation.

These days, in Philadelphia, there has been an increase in organized protests since the election of President Trump and the passing of the immigration ban.

Now, parents such as Elizabeth Taylor, an African American history teacher at Masterman High School, encourage their children to attend protests. In fact, Taylor says that she already takes her children, ages 4, 6, and 8, to protests. She feels comfortable doing so because they are with her and not alone.

Even high-profile parents, such as former first daughter Chelsea Clinton, have taken their children to protests. Clinton tweeted about bringing 2-year-old daughter, Charlotte, to the “Today, I Am a Muslim Too” event in New York City this past February.

Today, teenagers such as 16-year-old Masterman sophomore Kate McDowell feel it is a necessity to protest. “If we keep putting it off and putting it on other people to do things about [issues], then eventually when those people aren’t here to help us anymore, then we’re going to be [in trouble],” she said.

The lure of a protest, according to Isabella Hargesheimer, a 16-year-old sophomore at Masterman, is the positivity that stems from something that is sometimes negative.

“There’s this feeling in the atmosphere when you’re there and it’s really empowering and everyone is shouting and everyone agrees with you. If you have a poster, then everyone is commenting,” she said. “It’s like a really positive atmosphere even if it’s for something negative.”

Teens have many outside influences that push them to explore politics such as television, their favorite celebrities, and magazines.

One prominent magazine that has tackled political issues is Teen Vogue. In the past few years, Teen Vogue has shifted its focus from makeup tutorials and celebrity breakup reports to more serious issues such as politics, race relations, and identity.

Some in Generation Z, ages 12 to 21, cannot vote, but this does not deter them from voicing their opinions. They are going beyond the realm of just protesting and are actually organizing their own protests.

Seventeen-year-old Masterman junior Hope McQuoid did just that with a group of friends, Nishat Fariha, Katie Gobreski, and Olivia Sandom, reacting to the Trump immigration ban.

“So, after hearing everything that was going on in our country and with the executive order that was passed, I felt that it was really important for there to be an opportunity for students to have their voices heard,” McQuoid said.

“I wanted to do it in a completely student-based way, student-run, students participating, and just a way for us to unite in ourselves and show that our voices matter, too.”

The result of McQuoid and her friends’ work was a successful protest that attracted many participants from schools all over Philadelphia.

The students walked from Masterman school on Spring Garden Street and walked up Broad Street until they reached City Hall. Once there, they chanted and four Masterman students made speeches. The students had let their voices be heard, loud and clear.

The immigration ban is not the only thing Generation Z has protested. There are issues that hit closer to home. Some students in Philadelphia have protested the privatization of public schools, said veteran political organizer Hannah Sassaman of the Media Mobilizing Project.

The students use social media, such as Snapchat, to strategize their plans for protest. They also organize flash mobs and challenge school officials through questioning at School Reform Commission meetings.

Sassaman has two children, ages 1 and 5, and she already takes them to protests. She has brought her baby to a City Council meeting at 3 weeks old, she said. Sassaman and her family went to the Philadelphia International Airport to make sure that immigrant families were permitted to enter Philadelphia. Sassaman’s 5-year-old daughter has already attended protests and is creating a sign for another she will be attending soon.


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