Out of the Mouths of Babes: The Moral Authority of Youth and the Pursuit of Social justice


Occupy Rochester protestors await arrest in Washington Square Park, about 20 minutes before midnight on Friday, October 28, 2011. From Memorial Day, 1892, when President Benjamin Harrison dedicated the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Monument in Washington Square Park with Frederick Douglass. And Occupy Rochester

George Cassidy Payne is a domestic violence counselor and Niagara County Community College adjunct professor of philosophy.

In a recent tweet, former President Barack Obama applauded the students of Parkland for making their voices heard. He wrote:

Young people have helped lead all our great movements. How inspiring to see it again in so many smart, fearless students standing up for their right to be safe; marching and organizing to remake the world as it should be. We’ve been waiting for you. And we’ve got your backs.

One reason that youth have been at the forefront of social justice in America is because they are not jaded. They actually believe change can happen and are not afraid to take risks for peace and justice.

The children of Birmingham in 1963 fought for a future where people are not treated unequally due to the color of their skin. They refused to listen to those who said segregation would last forever.


From the Vietnam Veteran’s Walk of Honor in Highland Park [Photo: David Kramer, 2/26/18]

After Kent State in 1970, the nation’s youth demanded an end to a vicious war in Southeast Asia because they believed in a world not dominated by greed and oppression. The students refused to listen to their parents, teachers, politicians, and others who argued that war was inevitable and necessary.

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From the Vietnam Veteran’s Walk of Honor in Highland Park [Photo: David Kramer, 2/26/18]

During the Occupy Wall Street movement a generation of young people stood up (and sat down) to force corporations to be accountable to the people; they actually believed in a world where 1% of the population does not control the financial destiny of the 99%.


Robert Kennedy speaking at the University of Rochester on September 29th, 1964. See Two tragedies that spurred gun control debate

And now a new generation of youth have risen in Florida to use their moral authority to help push for commonsense gun policies. These youth actually believe that Congress can — with the right inspiration and pressure — do the right thing.

In the words of Robert Kennedy:

Every generation inherits a world it never made; and, as it does so, it automatically becomes the trustee of that world for those who come after. In due course, each generation makes its own accounting to its children.


Two tragedies that spurred gun control debate