Super Cities №69 — How Democracy Works

Brendan Hart

One Big Thing

People are dying, and students are walking

Jaha Doyley, 17, said she feared for her own life, and that of her 9-year-old sister. “It wasn’t a hard decision,” Jaha said. “I’m really scared and worried.”


In 1999, two high school kids in Colorado, armed with weapons and hate, killed a dozen classmates and one teacher before turning the guns on themselves. We now know that Columbine was the pilot episode in a deadly, long-running series.

1999 was a calmer time. Americans were concerned about Y2K, but the economy was booming. We could not imagine Hanging Chads, 9/11, Iraq, or the financial crisis.

When Harris and Klebold killed their classmates and teacher, my classmates and I didn’t do anything. The shooting was a faraway problem in a faraway place. We were too busy — too self-absorbed — bullshitting our way through high school.

Our civic radar had a range of zero.

So here’s the truth: although often dismissed, high schoolers in 2018 are cooler, braver, and nobler than high schoolers in 1999 and, it must be said, earlier generations.

Around the country, high school students — energized by fear, organized online — are stepping up and stepping out. Their individual voices may be small, but their collective voice is loud and growing louder.

When more than half of their supposedly wise parents are unable to name their political representative, students are self-organizing. They are leveraging technology to build community. They are taking to the streets.

Above all else, they are fully participating in democracy.

This movement may start with guns. But it ends with young people teaching older people how to be better citizens.

For more, I recently came across a fantastic letter from a group of high schoolers in New York. They are demanding answers from their representative. You can read the entire letter (Google Drive link), but here are two key passages:

Every day, we go to school with fear. We meticulously plan escape routes, in the event that a tragedy should occur on our very own campus. We flinch at school announcements and even doubt the fire alarms that intend to protect us. We stand for moments of silence in school, we make small changes in protocols and safety measures, and we let the conversation wane.

We will not wait any longer. We will fight until that fear is eradicated, until that conversation has no more talking points. We will NOT forget the hundreds of lives lost to your inaction, until our voices are heard and reforms are made. We are tired of watching our representatives deflecting attempts at meaningful gun reform with “thoughts and prayers”. We are frustrated by their failure to invoke any reasonable changes to our gun laws, and we are enraged by their refusal to hear our voices crying out for change, and their dismissal on the basis of our age. Sometimes we don’t need advice; we need our representatives to listen. And now, more than ever, we hope that you are listening clearly when we say that we have had enough.

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