NJ Youth Use Social Media + Grass Roots Activism To Focus Gov’t Attention on Education

Photo by New York Times photographer Ruth Fremson

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Tuwisha Rogers for writing today’s blog entry!

We’ve heard a lot recently about today’s generation and how they roll. You know them – the generation that watches television, texts, plays video games and listens to music all at the same time from the same device. The same generation with a “microwave mentality” that wants everything Burger King style…THEIR way. But last week in New Jersey it appeared that the attitude of this forward thinking generation has caught the attention of the nation.

When recent 18-year-old Pace University freshman Michelle Ryan Lauto started a Facebook page last Tuesday suggesting New Jersey’s high school students’ protest New Jersey’s recent education cut, the page drew almost 18,000 members! In true Facebook fashion, it started to build a momentum that drew thousands of students from not only inner city schools, but from suburban schools across the state.

“I just want to draw attention to the entire issue and I want to show both the Governor and his administration that the youth is not apathetic towards these cuts and that we care very very much so about what happens to our education and our extra curricular activities,” said Lauto.

Michelle Ryan Lauto, accidental social media activist

What took the protest to another level is the students were well versed on New Jersey’s political issues and the climate. Several people, many of them educators, are commenting on the Facebook page that these students recognized the importance of education and challenged the government take notice. At 2:30PM on the day of the protest, the crowds continued to grow larger, despite the threats of detention and longer school days. The New Jersey Teacher’s Union does not condone students cutting class and leaving schools, but I wonder if they quietly feel a little proud? Perhaps these students were paying attention in history class when they learned nearly forty seven years ago that people of all races, shapes and socioeconomic backgrounds marched together on Washington for civil rights or six years later, the Woodstock festival became a youth movement expressing peace and unity on a global level.

Maybe New Jersey civics classes shouldn’t be cut – after all, these are America’s future voters and the same generation that took the street for Obama, leveraging social mediums and texting to encourage a nation to vote. “Yes We Can” (followed by “Yes We Did”) has become a mantra widely used by this generation and is part of the “Obama Effect” on this demographic.

Media, marketers and the mainstream public should take note – these students are not alone. Let’s not forget the millennial movement in Russia. On April 7, 2009, more than 10,000 young Moldovans, a country the size of Maryland, protested against the country’s Communist leadership, taking over government buildings and clashing with the police. No one saw it coming – a sea of young people reflected the country’s deep generational gap. The gathering the crowd was recruited and the message was spread via text messaging, Facebook and Twitter.

Research tells us that this millennial generation doesn’t see borders, color, or any barriers that keep them from connecting. The reality is we really do have open access to the world…and it great to see a generation rise up to leverage social mediums for causes that will become historic. One could say we hope that this millennial movement will motivate previous generations to remember the revolutions that took place during their youth, and motivate them to exercise their rights and get involved.

I close with this statement – with great power comes greater responsibility. I look forward to the reward of these students efforts. This Jersey girl, former New Jersey educator and professional applaud you! Follow the story at NJ.com.

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