From demonstrating for civil rights, women’s rights, and in advocating for environmental justice, young people have always been at the forefront of forging social change. They continue to lead the way, as evidenced by the two young Black Tennessee lawmakers – both under the age of 30 – who were expelled from the legislature for speaking out against a power structure that unabashedly took extreme measures to protect the status quo. We see this as an egregious abuse of power to silence those with opposing views. Their actions not only impact the expelled lawmakers, but also do a disservice to all of those who democratically voted them into office.
We know there were three Tennessee lawmakers who protested in the assembly – two Black, one white – yet, only the young Black members were expelled. This overt silencing of young Black voices with differing opinions has significant implications for our mission at Youthprise. Minnesota has nation-leading racial disparities among young people – inequities that are especially severe for young Black men. This deliberate attempt to strip young people of their power underscores the critical need for our work, which seeks to amplify youth voice and dismantle inequitable systems that propagate actions like we recently witnessed in Tennessee.
The breakdown in civil discourse across different perspectives has sadly become commonplace in our culture. Regardless of where we stand, individuals or groups should not be expelled from civic participation because of a differing opinion or approach to an issue. It is essential that young leaders are able to freely engage in dialogue on behalf of those they represent without fear of retribution or marginalization.
We will continue to advance opportunities and provide a platform for young people – especially those who continue to be sidelined – to challenge inequities and develop their own solutions for issues that affect them now and inevitably will impact their future. To the young people nationwide – across every race, class, and culture – who are organizing, demonstrating, and responsibly contributing to the gun control debate and other issues, we support you and you are the reason we do what we do.