Editorial: The powerful perspective of young people

  • Amherst Regional High School senior Leif Maynard speaks to 200 students and adults attending a rally on the Amherst Common hosted by high school students as part of the global Fridays For Future movement to protest lack of action on climate change on Friday, March 15. gazette file photo/kevin gutting

Published: 4/2/2019 8:00:26 PM
Modified: 4/2/2019 8:00:13 PM

For those who worry about the next generation, listening to one of this generation’s political leaders gushing about the youth he meets is comforting.

U.S. Rep. James McGovern, the longtime Democrat who represents the state’s 2nd Congressional District that includes many communities in Hampshire and Franklin counties, credits young people with pressing politicians and other leaders on their generation’s flash-point topics — with climate change and gun control topping the list.

“The young people I’m encountering, they are just so much more informed,” McGovern said during a recent meeting with the Gazette’s editorial staff. He adds, “I have more in-depth conversations with them than with some of my colleagues in Congress.”

Not only are these middle through college-age students better informed about international issues than their parents were, they have modern technology to help spread the word. And they are more comfortable and better equipped to use it than most adults.

That’s what makes the school strike for climate change that youth from throughout the region participated in on March 15 so impressive. The 200 students from Amherst Regional High School and Amherst Middle School who left school for the afternoon that day — and the students from other area schools who ventured to Boston for a similar strike — were inspired by a young teenager halfway across the world.

Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old from Sweden, started skipping school on a weekly basis six months ago to raise awareness of climate change. The goal of these strikes, dubbed Fridays For Future, is to force lawmakers to take drastic action to mitigate the harmful effects of global warming. All total, the March 15 marches occurred in more than 2,000 places in 123 countries on all continents.

The message is pointed: “We’re on the edge of extinction here,” said Northampton High School student Saraphina Forman, who helped lead a march at the Statehouse in Boston. “There are no second chances. We’re seeing the science, and facts tell us we’re facing a huge crisis — and that’s climate change.”

Leaders of this national climate change movement say they’ve been partly inspired by the teen survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Those survivors also staged school walkouts for stricter gun control laws, walkouts that spread throughout the country and into Valley schools.

About a year ago, Northampton High School students organized a gun violence protest as part of the March For Our Lives movement. The march drew 2,000 families and youth from middle school to college who were “sick and tired of seeing our peers in coffins,” as one leader said.

In this area, too, McGovern said youth are helping to move the needle for change. While little has changed at the congressional level when it comes to gun control laws, several states including Massachusetts passed extreme risk protection order laws, which give family members and law enforcement a way to petition a court to temporarily remove firearms from a person at risk of hurting others or themselves.

Nationally, one of the first priorities of the new Democratic House majority was introducing a new, stronger bill to expand background checks on gun sales. It will be tough to pass given the control of Republican gun-rights supporters in the Senate.

But this is a long-term, generational fight. And we credit these youngsters for pushing forward on such critical matters. They deserve to be heard.

Not all the issues are as hot-button as climate change and gun control. Some are more broad, such as a student-led town hall at Northampton High School in February at which two of the region’s new state political leaders answered questions.

Youth activism is certainly not a new phenomenon, but it is encouraging that so many of our young neighbors are tuned in to issues beyond their insular high school lives.

Two days after the teens participated in the climate strike, another group of activists gathered in Northampton to mark the 100th birthday of another inspiration — Frances Crowe, a longtime social activist and peace icon who has inspired people of all ages to stand up for causes they believe in.

The group, all 250 of them, marched through downtown. In her post-march speech, Crowe singled out the young faces she saw in the audience.

“I see so many young people, which gives me great hope,” she said.

We couldn’t agree more.




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