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'This is our future’: How youth activism is influencing various social movements

Students at Maplewood Richmond Heights remember the victims of the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
File Photo| Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
Students at Maplewood Richmond Heights remember the victims of the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Since the fatal shooting of students in Florida in February, many young activists have organized walkouts, rallies and calls to action. On March 24, young people all over the country will take to the streets again in a nationwide rally they’re calling “March For Our Lives.”

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked with local students involved in myriad causes they are passionate about to discuss youth’s role in activism.

Joining him for the discussion was Haley Zink, a St. Charles Community College student co-organizing St. Louis’ “March For Our Lives” rally, Thomas Hoerner, a senior at St. Mary’s High School who participated in this year’s “March for Life” anti-abortion rally, and Lauryn Donovan, a freshman at Ladue High School who spoke at this year’s “Women’s March for Truth” rally.

Zink said the role of youth in today’s social activism is “all encompassing.” She focuses on educating young voters about various political issues and increasing their presence at the polls.

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Credit Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
Haley Zink is a student at St. Charles Community College co-organizing St. Louis' "March For Our Lives" rally on March 24.

“The generation underneath the millennials is larger than the generation of millennials. It is also the generation that is starting to vote in 2018 … and 2020,” Zink said. “[Voting] is how we can shape the country going forward and this is our future.”

She explained that the students seeking to force action on school shootings have organized a St. Louis "March For Our Lives" through downtown, set for March 24, to demonstrate against the status quo of gun laws and gun violence “on a whole.”

The march already has more than 10,000 people interested in attending. It's designed as a local companion to the headlining march in Washington, D.C., which aims to draw 500,000.

Grounding activism in beliefs and life experiences

Hoerner uses his religion as a driving force in his social activism. As an orthodox Catholic, he said the ideas that his generation shares “often time overlap with the notion of human justice propagated by the Catholic Church.”

“My opinions on social activism are all grounded in the idea of the Catholic faith and by that, I mean humanity and [that] individual humans have rights and value,” Hoerner said. 

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Credit Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
Thomas Hoerner is a senior at St. Mary's High School passionate about abortion issues and “guaranteeing the right to life for the unborn.” He attends the annual “March For Life” rally in Washington D.C.

He said he is passionate about abortion issues and “guaranteeing the right to life for the unborn” and attends the annual “March For Life” rally in Washington D.C. He noted that he finds that many of his peers are also committed to participating and demonstrating in anti-abortion movements.

As a young black woman, Donovan said her life experiences have pushed her to use her voice on larger platforms to uplift other black girls and people who face oppression. She’s spoken at the past two women’s marches in St. Louis to address allying with LBGTQ+ people, issues of police brutality and colorism in society, which is discrimination based on skin color.

Donovan noted that being a young activist has its limitations and that the role of adults is also crucial in movements due to their eligibility to vote. 

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Credit Tracye Donovan
15-year-old Lauryn Donovan is a 9th grader at Ladue High School involved in various social causes.

“Me as a 15-year-old girl, I can’t vote yet, I can’t change something that big, I can’t be a part of something that big yet,” Donovan said.” But as long as I have a voice … my goal is to maybe get some people to be a little more open minded to some things.”

The increase of protests within the past month has stirred many conversations regarding gun laws between activists and politicians nationwide.

“I feel like we’re being heard the more that we walkout, protest and ‘disrupt’ all the peace and quiet. [When] we speak up is when they really stop and listen to us,” Donovan said.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Lara is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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