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Raised With a Fist: Six Things You Need to Know About Youth and the 2013 March on Washington

Isabelle Nastasia Aug 30, 2013

After a long week of commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, many are looking for a way forward. However, it is necessary to reflect on the week and what really went down — particularly, what the role of young people in social movements is and why we should be recognized as true leaders.

Here are a few necessary recaps from the March and youth-led organizing this week, in case you missed it:

1) On both days, everybody was speaking about young people, but very few youth were allotted time to speak.

Millennials are all the rage right now. Everybody wants to know why we aren’t going to church and why we are shopping online and how we are voting; however, very few mainstream outlets are asking us what we want and listening to our answers. The March on Washington commemoration was no different. Politicians and elders in the movement made calls for young people to participate, calling us “apathetic” — a term that has been branded on our generation for too long. This left a bad taste in a lot of young people’s mouths and seeded the earth for things that would come next. It is time that the young are acknowledged as key players in creating social change. As many young people stated at the one-day long #WeGotNext conference on Sunday, “Martin Luther King Jr. was 25 when he organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott…no one called him a ‘youth leader’; he was just a leader.”

"Mlk was 25 when he led the bus boycotts. He was 39 when he died. ppl didn’t call him a ‘youth leader’ – he was just a leader" #wegotnext

— The Dream Defenders (@Dreamdefenders) August 25, 2013

2) The young people who were allotted time to speak were either cut short, or were cut from the speaking list entirely.

Three young speakers – Sofia Campos of United We Dream, Alayna Eagle Shield of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation and Phillip Agnew of the Dream Defenders – were cut from the speaking list for the March while they were waiting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. These young people represented constituencies that have been silenced in many other institutional organizing spaces; for instance, when the Human Rights Campaign pressured queer organizers to not speak about their experience as undocumented immigrants at press conferences.

3) Youth leaders understand that ageism was not the only thing at play in the decision to cut Phillip, Sofia, and Alayna from the speaking list.

As was noted in the speeches delivered by the three speakers via social media after the fact, it was not just the voices of youth that we marginalized from the March on Washington anniversary on Saturday and Wednesday. Feminist, Native, queer and transgender, immigrant rights, intergenerational and veteran organizations that do on-the-ground organizing around police profiling and violence, sexual assault, incarceration and economic justice were silenced in the lead-up and throughout the day. Had the three speakers been able to have their two minutes at the podium, more voices of these communities would have been clearly represented, albeit still in a very marginalized space.

4) Young people didn’t just get mad, we continued organizing.

After the march on Saturday, these three young people exchanged frustrations at the lack of time allotted to millennial speakers, expressing disdain for being left out of the planning of the March. But after word got out that Agnew, Campos and Shield had been told that time was up, youth organizing networks quickly mobilized a rapid response social media conversation about why the decision had been made and what the young organizing community thought about it. Using the hashtag #OurMarch as well as #MoW50 and #MarchOn (the official hashtags assigned for the March), the Dream Defenders bolstered a youth intervention in larger discussions around civil rights issues today. Quickly, the online conversation drew the attention of major news outlets likeMSNBC’s Chris Hayes and Aljazeera America as well as the blogging community. The three speakers put out videos on YouTube (watch: Alayna, Phillip, and Sofia) of speeches they had planned to deliver on Wednesday and called for youth to make their own two-minute-long videos of messages they had to the American public about the state of the country and, if they were moved to, try to present a way forward.

5) Young people are rejecting the terminology and idea that we are entering a “new civil rights movement”.  

While the “institutional left” has embraced the terminology of a “new civil rights movement”, many youth organizations including our own writers here at {Young}ist have strong critiques of the idea that there is anything new about the struggles we are fighting today. Instead, we see these struggles as an extension of the resistance that has been taking place for generations. Many young leaders are also rejecting the idea that we are trying to be the “MLK Jr.’s of our generation”, understanding instead that we are apart of a larger legacy of struggle but that are struggles are not the same as those waged by freedom riders, the Black Panthers, the Stonewall rioters and other freedom fighters who have come before us.  

6) Young people are ready.

Youth are building for a powerful, intersectional, and intergenerational movement for justice. While local and regional organizing by youth and students from Florida to Ohio to New York to California has been growing for the past few years, national efforts that tie together struggles across state lines are fairly new. However, two consecutive years of the national student power convergence have allowed youth leaders to build strong relationships and deep analysis that links all of our struggles. Moving forward,  across the country there is a call for a #MillionMillennialMarch that will potentially serve to build intergenerational connections in the movement, and most importantly, as a means to uplift the work of youth doing organizing in their communities.

First published at Youngist.org.

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