A new generation takes to the streets – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

Should I laugh or cringe when reporters say that today’s protests aren’t new and similar protests go all the way back to the civil rights movement? They have now labeled those of us involved in the movement back in the 1960s as ancient history. First, it wasn’t that long ago in America’s 400-year history regarding race. Second, let’s be clear that I was very, very young.

I got a call from a high school classmate to come downtown and join a protest. Not sure that I’d get permission, I told my dad that I was going for a walk. It was hours before I returned home, but no one commented on my absence. I was busted the next morning when dad picked up the newspaper saw our protest on the front page with the caption, Pimple Politics. I held my breath as he turned purple, expecting to be squashed for life. But I’m forever grateful for his response: “How dare they insult you!” I suddenly saw my future as a leader and advocate for civil rights, women’s rights, human rights, and, in those days, for the end of the Vietnam War.

Today, I opened the newspaper and featured on the front page was “Student protest sets off local feud”. I had a deja vu moment reading how Chattanooga teens took to the streets protesting not just police actions against African Americans, but against ongoing inequities. Some denounced the event flier’s image of a fist as violent and students would , school board elections rocketed into a full scale battle. The politicization of the students’ supposed strident attitude happened overnight, again.

Fortunately for this emerging Generation Z of Black, White, and multicultural teens, they’re organizing and becoming leaders. Six teenage girls pulled off the Nashville protest against racism and police brutality. The 10,000 person protest was the largest in the Tennessee region. Today wasn’t a phone call that summoned the protesters against racism and police brutality. They met on Twitter, began FaceTiming one another and decided to form a coalition: Girls 4 Change. Backed by Black Lives Matter Nashville and supported by technology, the gigantic rally soon followed.

The Girls 4 Change aren’t alone in taking the lead. Almost 30,000 protesters peacefully gathered in the San Fransisco Bay Area, organized by local teens. Yet, many are questioning whether the newest generation will persevere and vote in November. So much can change in the coming months, but I suspect that these young leaders will mobilize their generation. All of us, including politicians, are aware of the impact of their protests. I suspect that our youth also sees the power of their voice and will soon include voting registration issues in their protests, especially the efforts to limit voting in neighborhoods of color. They’ve already influenced how governments, local and national, address law enforcement policies, recruiting, and training. I’m sure that they’ll also address economic inequalities. Our youth will be hard hit by COVID-19 for entire lifetimes: education, jobs, and travel as well as affording homes, health care, and retirement. Their generation is at great risk, so don’t be surprised when they run with what they’ve created.

We need their energy, leadership, creativity, and engagement to design a future worthy of this country. We need to nurture and encourage our young leaders to address diversity, equity & inclusion in law enforcement and our communities, as well as our economic healing. If we don’t, the country will stagnate into a poor shadow of its former self. So tell those who confront and abuse Generation Z , “How dare you insult our future!”


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