Teens weren’t joking around when they tanked President Trump’s Tulsa rally
By Rosalind Wiseman & Megan Saxelby
As soon as the Trump campaign tweeted on June 11th about tickets being available for the campaign’s political rally in Tulsa, the “prank” began. Within days young people were reserving seats for the event that they never intended to use.
If you believe the headlines, young people were just joking around when they sabotaged President Trump’s Tulsa rally, the first political event of the election season. But it wasn’t only a prank. President Trump was upended by young people and, specifically fans of K-Pop, who leveraged social media platforms like TikTok to mobilize, organize, and challenge the political systems, and specifically this President, who many young people perceive as disrespectful, racist, and indifferent to the real problems our country faces.
But why this rally? Why now? Why Tulsa? Because these young people understood the symbolism of the date and place. Ninety nine years ago, the “Black Wall Street” of Tulsa was destroyed by white Tulsans in one of the most violent attacks against a black community in United States history. Over 35 blocks were burned to the ground and over 300 people killed. Successful black businesses were destroyed forever. And even though this tragedy is not taught in the standard United States history class, enough young people have educated themselves about it and would not tolerate what they perceived as yet another act of this President’s intentional disrespect to the black community.
And these young people’s actions were successful. According to the Tulsa fire department, of the 19,000 seats only 6200 were filled at the Tulsa rally.
But the headlines that followed demonstrate the adult assumption that young people’s participation in politics can be reduced to a punchline or clickbait, primarily because they used an app that many adults dismiss as yet another vacuous social media outlet.
And that would be a mistake. There is an important shift in political power happening right now because young people are smart, tactical, and savvy. We only have to look at the young leaders of Black Lives Matter and Climate Change, like Sunrise Movement, to see that young people are strategic, serious and ready to hold adults and the institutions they represent accountable.
Yet, when we dismiss their effective political organizing or creative use of technology as only a “prank”, we send the message that institutions, and adults by extension, do not value young people’s contributions or think they are a constituency to respect.
We also disregard the legacy of humor and satire as effective tools to combat oppression and ignore social media as one of the most significant ways young people find their voice, recognition, and community, things they are not regularly offered in our larger political conversations.
Young people are fed up. Fed up with institutional racism in their education and legal systems. Fed up with climate inaction. Fed up with expectations that they show respect to adults who use their positions of authority to get away with regularly disrespecting others.
As people who work with teens, we get it. When it comes to teens, people have strong feelings, and many of them tend to be negative. They’re on technology too much. They’re self-obsessed. They all have attitude problems. Every movie, book, and TV show about adolescence portrays it as a terrible, non-stop gauntlet of horrors to survive before moving on to the safety and joy of adulthood.
This deficit model we put on young people sets them up to struggle, to feel ignored, and feel antagonistic towards adults and the systems we represent.
What if we shifted the way we talked about, thought about, and viewed teens? What if we took them and their concerns seriously? What if we stood up to other adults, especially adults in positions of power, who mock and dismiss young people’s thoughts and opinions?
In the past, we haven’t spoken up and our silence is noticed. We, the adults, either look like we agree with the bullies, or are too intimidated or incompetent to stand up to them ourselves.
Isn’t it ironic that the people who may be the most effective at holding our political leaders accountable for their bad behavior are the ones who are dismissed as narcissistic, politically apathetic, and superficial? Imagine if the headlines read, “Young Activists Leverage Social Media To Demonstrate Their Political Power.” We ignore them, their actions, and their agenda to our collective detriment and peril.
Rosalind Wiseman is a thought leader and bestselling author of “Queen Bees & Wannabees,” the book that inspired the hit movie and musical “Mean Girls,” “Masterminds & Wingmen”, as well as “Owning Up: Empowering Adolescents to Confront Social Cruelty, Bullying, and Injustice,” a new curriculum for middle and high school students. She is the founder of Cultures of Dignity and lives in Colorado with her husband and two children. Follow her on Twitter at Cultures of Dignity
Megan Saxelby is a middle and high school educator whose expertise is in dignity, social emotional learning, and creating programming that prioritizes the development of emotional intelligence and prosocial critical thinking. Her work combines research in neuroscience, conflict resolution, and social responsibility to create cultures of dignity.