The nation is experiencing a long night of turmoil, uneasiness and unrest. Genuine leadership is lacking when it comes to addressing the serious challenges of violence, school safety, guns and mental health. Citizens have looked to Washington for answers but have been given only another round of predictable partisan rhetoric and petty bickering by politicians more concerned about re-election than real solutions.
Perhaps it is time to look to the next generation as a catalyst for the crucial conversations the nation needs.
On Monday, March 19, the Deseret News sponsored a forum on Utah’s Capitol Hill that drew 40 high school students from across the Wasatch Front. The students included several who were actively involved in organizing Saturday’s march and the school walkouts last week. Other students represented those who were part of the “walk up not out” movement. The students held a wide range of ideas and feelings about guns, safety and what they could do to decrease violence. They all felt they needed to do something more.
The goal of the 3½-hour event wasn’t to persuade the students to a point of view. The purpose was to help them recognize that, whatever their issue and their position on the problem, leadership requires a different mindset as well as a developed skill set. With encouragement from Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, and training in the principles of change from author Joseph Grenny, the students engaged in a dialogue superior to what is generally coming out of Congress.
These students weren’t waiting for Washington. They were confident they had a point of view that mattered. They felt they had something to say that needed to be heard and had ideas important enough to share. This group of students didn’t look like the narcissistic, selfie-driven, social media monsters young people often are portrayed to be. They were teachable and wanted to know how they could be better leaders.
Learning that most movements fail and never materialize because they never make it beyond the emotional first wave of protest, these students seemed to become more determined to be different. Most walked away recognizing that marches and protests can be an important beginning but aren’t enough to ensure lasting change or progress. While emotions and feelings need to be voiced, there was an “Aha moment” that anger is not an agenda and frustration is not enough for a serious platform.
Students spent a great deal of time on solutions that were not dependent on government and were centered in things they could do with and for their fellow students. Most recognized that a list of demands wouldn’t amount to much in the end and that they need to be able to engage, listen, learn, debate and even agreeably disagree with those they try to influence.
The nation’s politics is faltering and, in many ways, failing the rising generation. This group of students appears to be less interested in political parties and talking points than in being laser-focused on finding answers. A number of students commented that with a bigger vision, specific skills and even a little coaching from older advisers, they could accomplish more than they had imagined.
In the aftermath of the tragic shooting in Florida and another in Maryland, students across the country seem to have found their voice. Young people just might transcend partisanship and pull the adults along with them. That would be good for the country.
Will they be part of a moment of protest or part of a movement that creates better schools and communities? The test will be what they do beyond the march.