Taking matters into our own hands: three stories of student activism


In 1958, teenagers in Wichita, Kansas participated in a sit-down protest for racial equality. Now, teenagers in the 21st century have to protest for gun control reforms due to the increase of school shootings, such as at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Though times have changed and new issues arise, students have proved that the youth voice should be heard.

Sophomore Bilan Osman protests to be a climate change activist

I am a climate change activist. I have recently started protesting and organizing just a few months ago. What inspired me was seeing a world issue that our current leaders in the U.S. government are not doing anything to find solutions. It upsets me that such leaders can promise us change, yet refuse to combat climate change.

I work with the U.S. Youth Climate Strike and I am part of the Virginia Youth Climate Strike (VYCS). I came across this organization on social media websites and wanting to get more involved, I applied to be part of the VYCS. Now, I am a regional organizer, which means I organize protests for the Northern Virginia region alongside other organizers. Usually, we protest on global climate strike days. Currently, we have a protest planned to happen in the upcoming weeks, and we will have a School Board Member Ryan
McElveen as our guest speaker for the strike.

From my involvement in protesting, I hope to see changes being made in my community because climate change is an issue affecting all of us. I protest because I demand our world leaders to put forth action and bring policies to combat this matter. It’s through activism that I have been more aware about world issues and even problems in my community. It has also taught me to do something about it, whether it’s attending a protest or educating others about these issues.

Students should do activism because activism works. Call your representatives and tell them why they should vote on policies that combat climate change. Attend a protest. Raise awareness. After our September 20 strike in Arlington, the county board voted and passed a community renewable energy plan that will take effect by 2035. However, climate change isn’t the only crisis that’s going on, sadly, there are plenty more out where it comes from. If there’s ever an issue you see in your community, advocate for a change and find ways to solve the issue! If no one is speaking up, be the first in doing so! Don’t wait for someone else to start advocating.

My advice for students is to attend a local protest or organize one on your own in your area. Students can also join a group or organization that advocates for an issue they’re passionate about, just like I did. They can also raise awareness in their community and at school for example hanging up flyers, getting on the school announcements, posting on social media or even knocking on doors. It’s small things like this that can make a real difference in the world we live in.


Senior Dani Villarroel explains why she chose to become a student activist

It all started during my freshman year of high school. The Women’s March was finally getting really recognized. So, I attended that freshman year and I went to every Pride Parade as well. Both of these events are held at Washington, D.C., which is a convenient place for people who live in the Northern Virginia area.

Most recently, last year was special because through my mom’s work, we were able to raise money for the Trevor Project which helps LGBTQ+ youth that are facing problems such as suicide and depression.

I attended the March for Our Lives, which also took place in DC. Attending this march is especially important to me because not only am I a gun control activist, but it was also more of a youth kind of thing since a lot of us have the power to speak up.

This right isn’t always available to other countries around the world. It’s important for us to recognize that we have that privilege and right to free assembly and free speech, according to the U.S. First Amendment. It’s really important for me to speak out on things that aren’t morally right and need to be changed.

Although we are teenagers and we can’t really run for offi ce yet, the least we can do is speak up for what we find needs help and needs to be addressed. Activism has really shaped me to be the kind of person I am today, because I love to help people with law. That’s why I’ve decided I want to become a lawyer, specifically in human rights. It has influenced me so much because the law can really be on someone’s side if the right person is representing them. I hope to be that person to represent those people that have lost their voice or don’t have the platform for their voice to be spoken, and their side isn’t being told.

For those reasons, I think activism as a whole is really important, not just for youth, but to also be applied in our futures. I really hope that one day, I could be the person that people really need in order to have their rights heard and berepresented right in the courtroom. Some of my other strong platform stances and belief platforms include animal rights, human rights, gun control, and pro-choice rights. I do realize I’m very liberal, but I believe in democracy and in representation, especially for those who have their rights taken away from them, due to any circumstances.


Senior Karla Mercado Dorado stands up for Bolivia’s democracy at the Bolivian Cabildo

I went to a demonstration in Washington D.C., outside of the Lincoln Memorial, to show my support for Bolivia in light of everything that has happened there recently. It was the second time my mom allowed me to attend a protest and even joined me as well—the first having been the march for families separated at the border. The purpose of the demonstration was to show that Bolivians around the world also have a voice and are concerned about the threat to democracy in our home country.

This was important to me because it allowed me to connect to my country and feel like I’m a part of something that could genuinely make a difference. I haven’t been back to Bolivia since I left in 2003, but through protests like this one and advocacy on social media, it’s like I’m right there fighting alongside my family and neighbors back home.

There wasn’t much preparation I needed to do before going other than bundling up because it was super cold. When we got there, it was a sight to behold. There were hundreds upon hundreds of Bolivians of all ages and ethnic backgrounds gathered on the hill with fl ags waving in the air and posters demanding change. I’d never seen anything like it. There was a small stage set up where advocates from the DMV, Bolivia, and even Venezuela gave speeches and told their stories. The crowd could be heard chanting and applauding from almost a mile away. At one point, we sang the national anthem and then participated in a moment of silence to honor those who perished in their fight for democracy at the height of the violence that ensued in Bolivia.

It was truly an incredible experience to witness so many people coming together for a common cause and seeing later in the news how our actions actually do make a difference and help turn things around. The crisis in Bolivia has yet to cease and so the battle is not over and I will continue to speak out about it. As people become more and more aware of global issues through social media and the internet, there is more probability for change. If we have the power to use our voices, we must take advantage of it.