Almost immediately after 17 students and faculty were shot to death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14, a group of student survivors turned a horrific tragedy into a powerful movement.

Students took to the streets and the airwaves, demanding local and national officials tighten the notoriously loose gun laws that allowed the troubled 19-year-old shooting suspect to so easily purchase a military-style assault rifle.

Within four days of the shooting, they had come up with a name for their movement (Never Again), a policy demand (stricter background checks for gun buyers), and a date for a nationwide protest in Washington, D.C. (the March for Our Lives, scheduled for March 24th).

Within a week of the incident, nearly 100 students from the school traveled hours on busses to Tallahassee, roaming the halls of the state capitol to meet lawmakers and force their agenda. They were supported by thousands more students from across the state who came to rally on the streets outside.  

And at a nationally televised town hall meeting, students boldly challenged Sen. Marco Rubio, demanding he push for stronger gun control laws and break ties with the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, dozens of D.C.-area students have already staged a “die-in” outside of the White House, with more in the works, and students across the country are planning school walkouts over the next two months.

It’s an impressive feat of activism by a notably resilient group of high school students, most too young to vote, who have effectively transformed tragedy into powerful political action.

WATCH: PBS Student Reporting Labs on youth reactions to the shooting

In their coverage of the emerging movement, many news outlets conveyed a sense of surprise that young people would so strongly assert themselves and take leadership on an issue that directly affects them.  

But they shouldn’t be.

This is hardly the first time grade-school students have led the charge in pushing for nationwide reforms. In fact, the nascent Never Again movement follows in a long tradition of American youth who, despite being too young to vote, have been on the forefront of landmark social and political movements. Among the most recent (and often overlooked) examples include the young people on the frontlines of the Black Lives Matter movement, Dreamers fighting for immigration reform, and the group of American Indian youth who helped spark the Standing Rock movement in South Dakota last winter.  

As Kathryn Schumaker, a University of Oklahoma professor, noted in a recent Washington Post commentary, student protesters have long taken big risks to force the nation to engage in difficult conversations about the future they stand to inherit.

“Young people often have a greater sense of the possibilities for change than their elders do and less concern about the short-term consequences of seeking long-term reforms.”

Scroll through this timeline to explore just a  handful of the many movements led by young folks, 18 and under, that helped shape the society we live in today. Note that this is far from an exhaustive list (and only goes up to 1971), so if we’ve overlooked a major movement that deserves inclusion, please let us know in the comments below.   

The Kids Are All Right! A Timeline of Youth-Led Movements that Changed the Nation 2 March,2018Matthew Green


Matthew Green

Matthew Green is a digital media producer for KQED News. He previously produced The Lowdown, KQED’s multimedia news education blog. Matthew's written for numerous Bay Area publications, including the Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle. He also taught journalism classes at Fremont High School in East Oakland.

Email:; Twitter: @MGreenKQED

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