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Student Writers' Advisory Group explores activism in the age of social media and globalization

PMG FILE PHOTO - West Linn High School students recently walked out to draw attention to discrimination against LGBTQ+ students. Last month our Student Writers' Advisory Group (SWAG) was asked their thoughts on activism. With so many young people taking stands on a multitude of social issues — on platforms big, small and digital — we wanted to hear what the students in our community had to say.

Is cancel culture a hindrance to social change?

Activism, at its heart, is about fostering change. In the past two or three years, however, what's been widely recognized as a novel form of activism is "cancel culture," a form of boycott in which a person is suddenly thrust out of social circles. With its roots in social media, its proponents "cancel," or call attention to, behavior that they perceive to be problematic. But in reality, the current emphasis on cancel culture inherently inhibits change from occurring and is downright unconstructive for those involved.

First, "canceling" someone requires the making of a hasty, and often superficial, judgment. With millions of people constantly reading the news and watching Twitter feeds, calling someone out is most effective when you're the first to arrive on the scene, naturally preventing "cancelers" from fully uncovering evidence and mulling over ambiguities. As former president Barack Obama mentioned at his Foundation Summit, "If all you're doing is casting stones, you're probably not going to get that far." Incessantly pointing out certain language or unconventional ideas as being "wrong" is not productive; truly having an impact on society requires more than simple judgments on alleged missteps.

Second, the polarization that results from a cancellation going viral leaves no room for constructive critique. Perhaps the most popular example among younger generations would be that of beauty Youtuber James Charles' feud with his mentor, Tati Westbrook (also an influencer), where millions of social media users hung on to the intricacies of the drama and gossip like they would a case on CSI. Others might point to Shane Gillis' firing from SNL after using racist language on a podcast or Kevin Hart not being able to host the Oscars after old homophobic tweets were unveiled.

In all these scenarios, we see people splitting into two extremes -- those that align themselves with the so-called "canceled" and those who demand that the person in question never appears in the public eye again. But, as mentioned before, nothing is ever quite so black and white. We cannot ignore a person's wrongdoings, no matter how far in the past or how inconsequential they may appear, but on the other hand, censoring a person's opinions deprives them of the opportunity to voice their perspective, learn from their mistakes, and have others listen to their efforts. Only with "grey areas" can anyone be persuaded to think differently, yet cancel culture fundamentally lacks such a provision.

Activism requires that we interact with a diverse range of people and that we are willing to compromise. But cancel culture creates a toxic environment that shuts out differing ideas for the sake of feeling "woke" without truly being a proponent of social or racial justice. To further change means to engage and educate oneself, something we can all strive for, but not necessarily through the mechanisms of cancel culture.

-Andrea Yang, Lake Oswego High School

Listening is the key to change

Greta Thunberg's voice and relentless determination to take action against the sinister climate crisis we are experiencing is having an immense impact on the world. At only sixteen years old, she is inspiring around 1.5 million people of all ages to take part in climate strikes in 125 countries. Her bravery and determination has spurred a wave of people eager to rise and fight for their voices to be heard.

It's inspirational to advocate your opinion and act upon a passion that dwells in your heart. Simultaneously, it is crucial to hold an open mind to the beliefs of others and perspectives that differ from your own.

A prevailing issue among younger generations is a lack of respect for one another. Be inquisitive and take the time to understand and respect what others have to say. By viewing situations at different angles and in different lights, you will gain a better understanding of the world around you. Step outside of your bubble of what you believe is certain, and into the unknown. Expose yourself to what someone of different origins and experiences may have to offer.

Speaking of opinions, social media is a world wide platform for sharing them. Social media is also a platform for argumentation, and unfortunately, many of the arguments that are being expressed lack reverence and portray insular attitudes. Platforms such as Twitter have become the homes of bickering, pointing fingers at one another, ignorance, and disdain. As a result, all that is achieved is an inexorably deeper rift between the two sides, and a stagnation of the issues at hand. Greta Thunberg has experienced backlash online, and has been mocked by people including President Donald Trump. It takes an extensive amount of courage to face the inevitable criticism and scrutiny of social media.

Similarly, Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, has spent years dedicating his time towards the issue of climate change. He has funded organizations including America's Pledge and Beyond Carbon to reduce carbon emissions and eliminate coal plants. Bloomberg is also experiencing hate on social media for his stance on climate change.

Candace Owens, a political activist, has triggered many heated arguments on her Twitter page, one of them concerning the validity of scientific data used to support the climate crisis. Her stance on this topic has stirred up bitter back and forth argumentation between the left and right sides, each one ridiculing the other. It's clear that the sharp retorts and harsh comments that follow her bold tweets have no intention of listening to the other side, and instead are solely focused on satirizing one another.

We need to be working towards a future that brings one another together if we want to make a change. Finding common ground is essential to doing so, and this all begins with listening to what others have to say.

-Isabella Scalise, Wilsonville High School

We're writing the future — stop doubting us

In a world with a growing population currently resting around 7.53 billion, the natural presumption is that someone out there can solve all of our problems for us. There's hope for a perfect, immaculate society because with that many people, there ought to be a multitude of brilliant minds that can find an effective way to reduce our fossil fuel emissions or cure cancer.

Recently, these minds have been more closely tied to the youth. The young faces of our country are advocating on their own for the systemic change that hasn't been seen yet, surrounding issues such as: climate change, school shootings, sexuality and identity discrimination, racism, sexual assault, disease and gun violence. The big stuff.

Students across the world have participated in a global climate strike last Sept. because of 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who organized a series of protests to raise awareness for our environment.

In 2018, schools across the U.S. also walked-out to remember the 17 victims of the Parkland, FL school shooting and to protest gun violence in our country.

Even as recent as Nov. 8, West Linn High School students walked-out to draw attention to the appaling amount of LGBTQ+ discrimination taking place within the halls.

Students are standing up to global controversies, offering hope and encouragement that one day we can reach a point where microplastics aren't found in the ocean's fish populations, or where students don't have to hide in their classrooms on lockdown from fear of a school shooter entering the building. The reality of the future is being written now, by the young people that are courageous enough to protest the daunting problems affecting us, yet they're still facing an overwhelming share of backlash.

They're condemned for being naive and unworldly, claims surfacing that they don't know what they're talking about, or are overestimating the practicalities of actual legitimate change. Even Thunberg, who's been promoting positive climate action, was targeted by President Trump and other right-wing adults through Twitter. In one of his tweets, Trump mockingly commented, "She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!" after one of Thunberg's passionate speeches about the devastating impacts of climate change.

What people have failed to acknowledge is that Thunberg, along with other teen activists, are the future faces of the world: the future lawmakers, the future congress members, the future voters that will determine whether we float or sink. It becomes up to the youth to sanction the change because it's our future that we're fighting to preserve.

The future can't be written without the willingness to pick up the pen, and that's something that teen activists have shown promise in doing, even despite the pessimistic assumptions that act to submerge them.

-Skylar Moore, Wilsonville High School

Why the courage to be an activist shouldn't go unappreciated

When you put yourself out on the world stage, you place yourself in a position of intense scrutiny and make yourself the target of unfathomable amounts of vile comments. Every person who has ever walked the world stage can attest to this, though perhaps no group more than those who have walked it as activists.

In the past, people like Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman and Gloria Steinam have been famous faces to stand on the stage and endure the remarks and actions done against them. But today, a new type of activist walks the stage. The young activist.

Now that's not to say that young activists have never been around, because to do that is to discount very important work done by the youth of yesteryear, particularly work done for the civil rights movement. However, due mostly to social media providing the young with a platform, it seems like more activists than ever before air towards the young side.

From Mari Copeny to the survivors of the Parkland shooting to Greta Thunberg, today the role of activist has no age requirement. The young care and they will not be silent.

But those who disagree with them and find it appropriate to spit out vile comments online or on TV won't be quiet either.

Now I understand that change is often scary and can feel uncomfortable to those who have lived in a world defined by the aspect now being reconsidered. When people feel uncomfortable they make callous remarks and with the presence of social media those remarks will reach there target in an unprecedented manner.

But not only do these types of comments offer nothing to the discussion at large, they also tend to be less creative than the person writing them thinks. Especially when those comments boil down to, "you can't change anything because you are just a kid".

My father often returns me to his favorite Teddy Roosevelt quote whenever I need encouragement to keep on with my writing, and I feel that it's core message is something that the young activists of today need to hear.

Roosevelt said "It is not the critic who counts…the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena." Because even if the one in the arena fails, their place will never be amongst those who will never know victory, or defeat, because all they can muster the courage to do is whine online.

-Ethan Gill, Wilsonville High School

The media's relationship with activists

Recently, the media has been talking about Greta Thunberg, an activist who was brought up in the last SWAG meeting.

As reported by Carolyn Beeler in "How did teen activist Greta Thunberg rise to fame so quickly?", Thunberg became known to the public after protesting against climate change outside the Swedish parliament. Her protests started last year. Besides that, she gave a speech at the United Nations. At school, I learned she did a TED Talk. Regardless, I worry the media might focus more on Thunberg than climate change because of her age.

Now, I do not have a problem with Thunberg. I think her activism is remarkable. I would have a problem with the media if it focused on a person more than the issue they discuss. It would be a shame if this happened in Thunberg's case because she is talking about an important issue.

The solution I have for the problem is this: if the news mentions an activist, it has to talk specifically about the issue she is protesting. That is it. For now, I hope the media does more stories on climate change, without villainizing or without painting Thunberg as a saint in the process.

-Lily DeVine, Lake Oswego High School

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