August 18, 2019

Why the iPod Generation Cares About Darfur

The car horns sounded like a shofar practice session, a cacophony of long blasts and short toots with no particular meaning or purpose. And, thankfully, there was no traffic accident to be found.

The blaring noise was instead a response to scores of protesters at the Federal Building in Westwood, who were staging a rally to raise awareness about the genocide in Darfur.

The power of the rally was not necessarily its numbers, but its message: The “apathetic youth of America” are, well, not so apathetic. The event was coordinated by Teens Against Genocide (TAG), a group of greater Los Angeles high school students dedicated to raising awareness about the situation in western Sudan. These teenagers joined the group, and the cause, because they feel so strongly about the issue.

Perhaps the most intriguing question regarding activism for Darfur is: Why teens? Why have teenagers taken a leading role in this pressing issue? Aren’t we so busy with Advanced Placement courses, extracurricular activities, and socializing?

“Teens are starting to see beyond their immediate surroundings,” said Shira Shane, a senior at New Community Jewish High School who founded and leads TAG. “Teens haven’t been weathered by the negative world. They believe in the possibility rather than the impossibility.”

But don’t adults have more money, more influence and more political clout?

Perhaps, but one thing that students have in abundance is the urge, especially after sitting in classes all day, to be active: to get out there and run a mile, or run for office — or both.

More likely, however, teenagers contribute to such humanitarian causes as a test of the power of the will, flirting with the idea that they actually can make a difference with a little initiative. To some students this initiative is wearing a T-shirt or a green wristband to school, sparking conversation with others about the issue. To others it means writing letters to newspaper editors and political officials, letting them know that people care about the issue. Still others channel their energy toward planning events, much like the TAG rally on April 23 at the Federal Building or the rally in Washington, D.C., on April 30.

It has always been the nature of teenage life to be active, to experiment with the power of persuasion, and to test limits. What make this generation of adolescents unique is its access to, and familiarity with, technology. Now, perhaps the connection between those white iPod cords and the mass killings in Darfur isn’t so obvious. But consider that this generation of youth has been brought up with immediate and uninhibited means of communication that allows them not only to keep up with current events, but to use this technology in pursuit of a more just and peaceful world.

It could be argued that technologically advanced American teenagers have everything at their disposal to make a dent in the political surface — everything, that is, except for a direct connection to events outside their immediate circle. And, obviously, this isn’t about high-speed Internet. It involves a moral consciousness and a dedication to basic human rights. Many teenagers, especially Jewish ones, construct this link through the Holocaust and other genocides of recent history. Many more have found the connection internally. And despite over-scheduled lives, they have chosen to make it their cause.

Those involved in TAG, and many other supportive youths, understand that being busy is no factor in saving lives.

In fact, TAG and other like-minded organizations fit well with the teenage focus on school and socializing. Activism gives students the chance to apply to the real world the knowledge they are acquiring: from history and political science courses at school, from an inspirational teacher or from religious values. And, when students take their knowledge to the streets (both literally and figuratively), they are able to build a network of friendships that transcends the boundaries of a clique or a school.

Joining TAG isn’t about building a good transcript, either. For high school seniors, college applications had been submitted months before TAG materialized. And, for underclassmen, taking action is far more important than having that extra club or those extra hours of community service. The efforts to save lives, and to educate others about this genocide, simply cannot be logged in such form.

“Whatever the issue is, teens will try to pursue it,” Shane said. “Teens will push.”

Then, maybe, even more people will push on their horns when passing a rally for Darfur, leaving in the air an echo that will last as long as people are listening.

TAG member Jeff Goodman, is a senior at University High School, where he writes for the school paper.