[“People always say, ‘Get off your phones,’ but social media
is our weapon. Without it, the movement wouldn’t have spread this
fast.” ] [https://portside.org/]
MARCH FOR OUR LIVES AWAKENS THE SPIRIT OF STUDENT AND MEDIA ACTIVISM
OF THE 1960S
March 23, 2018
_ “People always say, ‘Get off your phones,’ but social media
is our weapon. Without it, the movement wouldn’t have spread this
Students rally in front of the White House in Washington, March 14,
2018. , AP Photo / Carolyn Kaster
A student movement
[https://marchforourlives.com/mission-statement/] against gun
violence is receiving sustained news coverage
was instrumental in building momentum around the March For Our Lives
Rally Saturday March 24 in Washington D.C. and other U.S. cities.
Students are using social and news media to build momentum and
advocate for legislation in the wake of a Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory
Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida
A former student opened fire in the school, killing 17 people.
As an expert
[https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=qKWYg20AAAAJ&hl=en] on the
history of youth journalism and media activism
blossomed in the 1960s, I see today’s students as part of a
continuum that began with that movement.
Despite not all being old enough to vote, Parkland students are
putting pressure on government and private corporations to meet their
Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a gun safety bill
law on March 9
while companies like Delta Airlines and Hertz have cut ties with the
National Rifle Association
[http://time.com/longform/never-again-movement/]. The student movement
is a force to be reckoned with.
Students create their own media
Student journalists used media as a key tool for activism in the
widespread social movements of the 1960s, journalism scholar Kaylene
Dial Armstrong writes in her book
Journalists Report Campus Unrest.” One notable student protest
happened in Washington, D.C., 50 years ago
In the spring of 1968, student demonstrators occupied the
administration building at Howard University
[https://www2.howard.edu/], a historically black school in Washington
to protest racial inequality. Starting on March 19, more than 1,000
students shut down administrative operations at the university until
One of the lead organizers, Adrienne Manns, was the editor-in-chief of
Howard’s student newspaper, The Hilltop
[http://thehilltoponline.com/]. The Hilltop supported the protesters
from the outset.
“It is the responsibility of The Hilltop to present issues and
suggest solutions,” read a front-page editorial
March 8, 1968, in the lead-up to the occupation.
The organizers saw the protest as part of the broader civil rights
the 1960s. Armstrong writes that Howard students demanded that the
administration make the curriculum more relevant to black students and
give them authority over the student paper. The administration met
these demands on March 23, and the students ended their occupation.
In 1968, Howard’s student journalists presented these issues and
solutions, covering events supporting black pride and identity. They
also suggested university-wide reforms. Suggestions included a
black-centric curriculum, a work-study program allowing students to
connect with the surrounding community and more student control over
The Hilltop’s journalists
deeper reporting that year on issues than the objective and detached
approach the professional media gave student protests. Manns
demonstrated that student journalists could draw on their experiences
as activists, using media to tell alternative narratives, build public
support and create change.
Later in 1968, as I explore in my own research
university students across Ontario, Canada, joined journalists who
were on strike to advocate for union recognition. At the time,
the Peterborough Examiner
[https://www.thepeterboroughexaminer.com/] in Ontario was owned by
multinational media corporation Thomson Newspapers – today known
as Thomson Reuters [https://www.thomsonreuters.com/en.html]. Hundreds
involved in the student movement from at least six universities joined
employees on the picket line. Together, they started a local
off-campus newspaper, The Free Press, which they published for nearly
The Free Press described itself
a local “alternative to the Examiner” and a “community-conscious
newspaper like the Peterborough Examiner was before Thomson took
Thomson Newspapers continued publishing the Examiner during the
strike, but it carried little reporting on the strike and other local
information. Some Free Press articles were focused on the strike,
criticizing Thomson Newspapers and the profit-driven press. But most
articles reported local news on a range of topics, including municipal
politics and sports.
The Free Press helped fill a gap in local news coverage about the
strike. The alternative paper also helped the Thomson journalists put
pressure on Thomson to negotiate with them. While Thomson didn’t
meet all of their demands, the journalists ended their strike on May
6, 1969, and returned to work.
Parkland students produce multimedia journalism
Today, students have more media tools at their disposal than in 1968.
During the Parkland shooting, student David Hogg
[https://twitter.com/davidhogg111], 17, took out his phone and started
filming and interviewing classmates. He was hiding in a school closet
at the time, as the gunman walked the halls.
“If I was going to die, I wanted to die doing what I love, and
that’s storytelling,” Hogg said
People around the world also got an inside view of the school shooting
from students who posted photos and video clips on Snapchat
[https://www.snapchat.com/]. Soon after the shooting began, Snapchat
published a featured story titled “High School Shooting” on its
new desktop feature called Snap Maps
The feature was released two days before the shooting and consisted of
a group of snaps submitted by users in that location.
Students Nikhita Nookala and Christy Ma, both 17, published their
account of the shooting in The Eagle Eye
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s newspaper. Unlike journalists
at commercial news outlets, Nookala and Ma drew on their unique
experiences as journalists and survivors
[https://www.cjr.org/analysis/parkland-school-shooting.php] to build
trust with community members and legitimize their coverage.
The revolution will be tweeted
The Parkland students have used social media on a daily basis
Student organizer Emma González
[https://twitter.com/emma4change] created a Twitter account on Feb.
four days after the Parkland shooting. Now she has 1.2 million
followers. She’s using Twitter to share messages of solidarity and
to ridicule politicians about gun control.
“People always say, ‘Get off your phones,’ but social media is
our weapon,” says student organizer Jaclyn Corin
[http://time.com/longform/never-again-movement/]. “Without it, the
movement wouldn’t have spread this fast.”
In the aftermath of the shooting, another student organizer Cameron
Kasky [https://twitter.com/cameron_kasky] used the hashtag
which has gone viral as a rallying cry for the movement.
By using various media, the Parkland students have demonstrated
they’re politically engaged
despite what some critics say about millennials being politically
In their book
People and the Future of News,” researchers Lynn Schofield Clark and
Regina Marchi call these practices “connective journalism.” They
explain how youth move from interest in an issue to political
participation in a social media age.
History demonstrates that student-led media could provide a platform
for youth to express their opinions, control their messages and
facilitate political participation.
Seen in this light, it’s important to recognize how young people are
using social and news media as a powerful mobilizing tool, like
students involved in March for Our Lives are doing. For the Parkland
teens, media provide a weapon to advocate for gun reform and mobilize
young people to vote [http://time.com/longform/never-again-movement/].
Although students used media for activism in the 1960s, students now
have more tools to quickly spread their messages widely and, in doing
so, shape national conversations.
_This article was updated on March 24 to include a reference to the
rally taking place._
a Postdoctoral Researcher and Visting Scholar in Communication,
University of Pennsylvania_
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