David Hogg would like you to just listen to him. As one of the most prominent of the students who, after the shooting at Florida’s Stoneman Douglas High School, helped start the anti-gun-violence movement March for Our Lives, Hogg has been on TV and at rallies across the country. But even with his success, he says he finds doors closed to him–not because of his ideas, but because of his age.
“People doubt us so much just because of our age,” he said at a panel at the Fast Company Innovation Festival. “It’s disheartening and it’s sad when I’m trying to work with different people in different fields and they just write me off because I’m a young person. To send email after email after email and not get replied to because people are like: ‘This kid is an idiot and doesn’t know what he’s talking about.'”
But Hogg’s main message–and the lesson from the power that March for Our Lives has accumulated since the shooting on February 14, 2018–is that young people need to just push through adults who aren’t listening and build their own power. “Empowerment is not something given to you, it’s something you give yourself. On February 14, we didn’t all of a sudden gain all this power, we realized we always had it. And we stopped waiting for somebody else to do it for us.”
Despite the success of the March for Our Lives movement, which Hogg says has seen an unprecedented number of gun regulation laws passed (at least 126 as of August), he and his co-organizers still face pushback. “Ageism against young people is something serious that this country has to face,” Hogg says, “If you say young people are too stupid and too lazy to go out and change something, and then they go out and change that thing, you start criticizing them because they don’t know enough about politics.”
But regardless, young people like Hogg are starting to make change that’s resonating throughout the business world. Rob Acker, the CEO of Salesforce.org, which helps supply Salesforce technology to nonprofits to use for good, notes that as young people demand more empowerment, businesses will have to support them to get the support of their workforces. “Businesses have to provide a platform for that,” Acker says, “whether they like or not, because their employees are going to demand it. Or they’ll die.”
Aria Finger, the CEO of DoSomething.org, which uses texting to help get young people involved in politics, agrees. Young people need to understand that they have power to make their own change. “If we don’t have hope that we can change the world, if we don’t have hope that we can change these policy decisions, if we don’t have hope that the movement can continue, then we’re nowhere,” she says. “If you can show people that they have power, then they can do anything.”
There will always be people who think that kids like Hogg aren’t ready to make change. But that, says Hogg, is missing a crucial point: These kids will grow up to be voters and policymakers, and they’re ready to challenge the leaders who won’t listen to them. “You just have to persist beyond that and prove them wrong,” Hogg says. “You need to get those people out of office because they don’t care about you.” They’re already starting: September 25th was the largest youth voter registration day in history.
“The question isn’t who are you waiting for,” he says. “It’s when are you going to do it yourself.”