Let's hear it for New York, the concrete jungle where dreams are made and the activism will inspire you. Recently, hundreds of Gen Z students demonstrated their frustration with the ongoing lack of health protections against COVID-19 in New York City schools by staging a mass walkout and protest.
Social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter were flooded with videos of students demonstrating that they were no longer going to accept being used as a political football in this game that adults seem far too willing and eager to play with their health and safety. It was a simple but powerful expression of self-determination and the growing self-awareness that as a generation our concerns about both our present situation and future are valid of being heard and engaged upon.
Hundreds of kids walked out of Brooklyn Tech today to protest the continuation of in person school during the Omicron wave and to call for a remote option pic.twitter.com/0HMVAFM2YC
— Jillian Jorgensen (@Jill_Jorgensen) January 11, 2022
The actions taken by students in New York gathered national attention that simply could not be ignored by the older generations of America. New York City leadership tweeted that they wanted to meet with student leaders to hear their concerns. President Biden announced that the Department of Health and Human Services will dedicate five million COVID rapid tests and five million PCR tests for schools to address health safety concerns and help to keep schools open. A clear step in the right direction.
Generation Z, we have grown up in a world where every aspect of our lives can not only be recorded each day but shared into a torrid stream of consciousness across social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram. We are both burdened and fortunate to be the first generation to live in a constant state of information flow. What we saw in New York would have taken weeks, if not months, to spread across our nation just a few decades ago. But today, we are able to share our collective actions and feelings so quickly that the generations that came before us still have a hard time understanding the power a simple video post can have to inspire an entire generation to take collective action to address the issues that we care about.
So much power is carried across the world in the palm of our hands. But with power, comes a growing responsibility to use this technology in ways that will create positive change and enhance our world. It is simply not enough to sit by and stay distracted by TikTok videos while serious issues that touch on our future health and wellbeing are being determined by those who will never have to spend the significant majority of their lives living with the consequences of those policies. We have a responsibility to ourselves to continue to use social media platforms to engage our peers and educate each other on solutions to problems in education, health, criminal justice reform, voting rights, economic justice, protecting our environment, and so much more.
In the shadows of recently celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this past weekend, I am also reminded of the powerful words that Dr. King shared with us throughout his life. Dr. King shared in his 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
In his sermon given the day after Bloody Sunday in 1965, Dr. King shared the following:
“A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.”
These words were given over 50 years ago, yet they still resonate today as they did then. We live in a reality that we are facing a new wave of attacks on our fundamental rights to practice some of our most basic fundamental rights in our nation. Some of these attacks are even starting to feel more like 1965 instead of 2022. Dr. King’s words should reach into our collective hearts and resonate so deeply with us that we pick up the mantle and continue to move forward towards achieving the society and world that we say we want.
This week hundreds of students in New York City demonstrated to us once again the power of our generation. We watched and applauded their collective action to demand that all students be provided a safe learning environment. We watched as leaders in New York City and in the White House saw their actions and responded with steps towards addressing our expressed concerns. When we stand together, acknowledging our “inescapable network of mutuality”, we can achieve our greatest hopes and dreams. By continuing to work together there is truly nothing that we can’t do.
Haley Taylor Schlitz is 19 years old and in her third year at SMU Dedman School of Law. In May of 2019, she became Texas Woman's University's youngest graduate in history when she graduated with honors with a Bachelor of Science degree from Texas Woman's University College of Professional Education. She is also the host of the online show Zooming In w/Gen Z. Follow all her endeavors on Instagram and Twitter.