When a gunman killed 17 people on Valentine's Day at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, the first response of many of their classmates was not to grieve in silence, but to speak out.
Waves of urgent teenage voices filled television interviews, social media, even the hallways of Florida's capitol. They have also sparked a debate over gun laws in the aftermath of another school shooting.
“This is a tipping point. Not only as far as guns are concerned, but in terms of how people make a case to the government to change things,” said John Zogby, founder of Zogby Poll. “If the government isn’t prepared to change things, I think you’re going to see young people not only continue to organize, but also march, and ultimately go to vote.”
Zogby’s comment came Friday at the St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs during a discussion titled “Breaking news: We interrupt this conference to bring you the latest...”
Millennials have experienced both privileges and challenges while coming of age. They were born into a world reshaped by the 1999 attack at Columbine High School in Colorado, grew up practicing active shooter drills and crowded together through lockdowns.
Zogby said that young people hope that out of this most recent tragedy, they can push elected officials in a way that will lead to some form of gun control legislation nationwide. Otherwise, it will serve as a litmus test for candidates during the 2018 midterm elections, and possibly beyond.
“In the broader scope of things, this is an energizing moment that brings young people back to the bargaining table as it did with the 2008 and 2012 presidential election that brought President Barack Obama into the White House,” he said.
According to PEW Research, 66 percent of those under age 30 voted for Obama in 2008, making the disparity between young voters and other age groups larger than in any presidential election since exit polling began in 1972.
Zogby has written about millennials extensively. In 2013, he co-authored "First Globals: Understanding, Managing and Unleashing the potential of Our Millennial Generation." He's also given numerous talks on the subject, and a TEDx lecture in 2013.
“Young people are more global, less hierarchical and solve problems immediately instead of stewing over them,” he said.
Zogby spoke at several of the 40 or so workshops held at the World Affairs Conference, which focused on politics, news and culture. Organizers said the sixth annual event, which wrapped up Friday, attracted 2,000 people.
WUSF's Robin Sussingham moderated a panel on international cultural tourism in St. Petersburg during the conference. You can hear highlights from that talk on Florida Matters, 6:30 p.m Tuesday, Feb. 27 on WUSF 89.7.