Last week Ashley Spillane, the president of Rock the Vote, wrote an op-ed for the Huffington Post about the important role Millennials have been playing to advance the national debate on marriage equality.
“According to Pew Research, 67 percent of young Americans support marriage equality,” Spillane wrote. “And if the court ultimately decides to extend this right to all states, young people should take pride in knowing that their views played a significant role in forcing and shaping this debate.”
Spillane also pointed out that young people are being credited for changing the opinions of the older generation.
“In fact,” she wrote, “it has been reported that many politicians have altered their position on marriage equality in large part because of conversations they've had with their millennial children, a fact that highlights how these conversations are just as important as voting in elections.”
In addition to changing the hearts and minds of the older generation, lots of young activists have found a place in the spotlight thanks to their contributions to the marriage equality debate.
Ashley Hasting-Tharp, a sixth grader from Oregon, received national media attention in April when she started the hashtag campaign #OurTurnNow to promote youth engagement in the marriage equality debate -- an idea that she and her three BFFs came up with during a slumber party.
“Youth today do not want to wait until we are adults for the world to be a better place,” Hasting-Tharp wrote in an op-ed in The Advocate. “I have two moms and two little brothers. I love them and they love me. My friends and I don’t see what the big deal is about same-sex couples being married legally or having children. We feel there are real-world concerns that urgently need our attention, not the fabricated ones that those opposed to marriage equality make up.”
University of Louisville student Tevin Johnson-Campion’s two dads are plaintiffs in Obergefell v. Hodges, the marriage equality case just debated in the Supreme Court. Tevin joined up with the ACLU to document his family’s experience fighting for marriage equality on the Tumblr TevinsTwoDads.com.
In an interview with MTV News, Tevin said, “People always try to put out false stereotypes, like, ‘The kids are going to be damaged’ and ‘The kids aren’t going to know right from wrong.’ Socially, we are no different from any other kids in our schools. All of us four kids are doing great. What we’re being affected by is the bigotry and the hatred that’s coming from other people who don’t understand.”
These are just a few examples of the many Millennials who are making a difference in the fight for marriage equality. And this certainly isn’t the first time young people have made a difference in movements for social change.
Young people were also highly involved and instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement. Many college students put their educations on hold, and lots of young activists bravely defied their parents’ wishes to become fully involved in the movement. Several activists who were interviewed for the Library of Congress’s Civil Rights History Project were still in elementary school when they became involved.
One of these activists, Freeman Hrabowski, was only twelve years old when he marched in the Birmingham Children’s Crusade of 1963. He was arrested and spent several days in jail with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who told him and the other young people there, “What you do this day will have an impact on children yet unborn.”
Young people also drove the Anti-Vietnam War Movement during the 1960’s. College students famously burnt their draft cards, and approximately three-quarters of a million students protested the Vietnam War. Almost exactly 45 years ago on May 4th, 1970, the Ohio National Guard killed four students and injured nine others when they shot at unarmed students who were protesting the war at Kent State University. These college students sacrificed their lives standing up for their beliefs.
In 1967, thanks in part to the volume of student protests, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke out against the Vietnam War, saying, “I see this war as an unjust, evil, and futile war,” and “I call on the young [people] of America who must make a choice today to take a stand on this issue. Tomorrow may be too late. The book may close.”
Today, Millennials are continuing in the footsteps of other brave American youth who have fought for equality and a better future. We're heavily engaged in the fight for marriage equality, the Fight For $15, and the Black Lives Matter movements, for example. Protests, viral hashtags, and conversations that change the national dialogue about important issues like these are critical -- but there’s at least one other powerful way we can make a difference that we aren’t fully taking advantage of yet.
According to Rock the Vote’s website, there are about 86 million Millennials in the U.S., but an estimated 30 million of us neglected to even vote in 2012. Ashley Spillane pointed out that if we all showed up at the polls, our generation could become the most powerful voting bloc in the country.
“Politicians would not only be forced to listen to our views but similarly be forced to act upon them,” Spillane wrote. “We need to...show up, and participate, because if we don’t, the future that we will inherit will be shaped without us.”