American Activism

Posted by Abigail B. Michigan

This piece is about why activism is important to American culture and the overall American identity. It explores how older and more recent movements have impacted American history and how they represent American ideals.

The United States of America has a very influential identity and culture that is very recognizable, but we find it very difficult when trying to actually define it. What does it mean to be American? You could say some of the more basic answers, like our undying devotion to freedom, the everlasting opportunity of prosperity and the “American Dream”, equality or capitalism, but the way we define things is always changing. As we grow as a nation our beliefs and values change slightly with the times, and activism is a good reminder of the shifting ideals.

Activism has been an important part of the changing American identity, even going back to its independence. Since then, there have been many movements in America that have changed the landscape of our identity for the better. The idea of fighting for what you believe in has always been a key principle in America’s identity. In the 1800’s, the woman’s suffrage movements activists promoted and pushed the idea of equality. On the National Parks Service’s website, the section on Susan B Anthony talks about her activism to change the way America worked. Her activism included campaigning, speaking at meetings, collecting signatures for petitions, and lobbying the state legislature. This is just one of the many activist movements in American history where people took action to make a change. Other campaigns like the civil rights movement promoted equality, a value that didn’t always have a place in America’s identity, but was fought for by many different groups, including students. The CNN article,” We Wouldn’t be America Without Student Activists,” talks about the history of student activism and how it is a crucial part of history. He also talks about Martin Luther King Jr. recognizing the importance of the students work, “He identified the young people risking violence to promote citizenship and American democracy as the most dedicated of patriots, courageous enough to speak truth to power in the face of powerful odds.” This quote about Martin Luther King Jr. is another example from history where activism played an important role in changing history to better represent the values of America.

Activism still plays a large part in the American identity, today. There will always be improvements and adaptations that need to be made as the country grows, and with that comes the push to take action from these movements. Usually large events, laws or other disruptions serve as a catalyst for these movements to arise. For example, The March For Our Lives movement was sparked by a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, which left 17 kids dead and many more injured. Obviously, there was massive outrage that a horrific event like this keeps happening, many referring back to other incidents like the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, and the Virginia Tech shooting. This mass shooting sparked a push to protect students and enact gun reform. And with that came results, including a ban on bump stocks, a bill aimed at improving the national background check system, “red flag” legislation and a higher legal age to buy a gun. But this was not the extent of it, according to 7 Ways America Has Changed Since the March For Our Lives, an article by Giffords, “Voter turnout among young people ages 18–29 rose to 31% in the 2018 election, which marked the highest youth turnout in years.” This was 10% more than in 2014. This activist movement spread awareness about gun control and gun violence, and empowered youth to make changes in America.

Activism has always had a strong connection to the American identity. These movements have pushed for improvements within our culture multiple times, with significant results. But still some people argue that activism is useless, that it doesn’t actually solve anything and that it becomes less effective with each time new movement. While there are always going to be small movements that don’t create massive change, they do all raise some level of awareness and conversation around the issue. According to Glenn Omatsu, the author of Student Activism Resource Handbook, “Activism is essentially about raising awareness and promoting education to help liberate and empower our communities.” While some activism may not directly create new laws or implement new rules, it does fuel the conversation around change. Raising awareness and educating people on new ideas does create change and enables new ways of thinking to solve problems. Activism movements haven’t slowed down and are not going to anytime soon. According to the Crowd Counting Consortium, an organization who tracks attendance at protests, the four largest protests in American history have been in the last two years, including the Women’s March and March For Our Lives. With all of the controversies and increasing problems in America, it doesn’t look like movements like these are slowing down any time soon.

In the wake of school shootings killing students, sexual assault allegations, the increasingly concerning state of our climate and the controversial Trump presidency, people have spoken up and taken action just like always. Activism has always been an important part of American history and continues to change the culture and display the power citizens have. Activism has and will always be crucial in defining the American Creed.

Published on May 31, 2019
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Writing Our Future: American Creed is part of the National Writing Project’s family of youth publishing projects, all gathered under the Writing Our Future initiative.

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