Cameron Kasky has been through more as an 18-year-old than some people experience their whole lives, and he has a wealth of information to share with the youth of our country, from tackling activism to taking care of yourself. The March for Our Lives co-founder, activist and Columbia University freshman took the stage in the Konover Dodd Center last night for “Youth-Led Movements: Making Waves in Today’s Political Climate” as a part of the university’s Leadership Legacy Experience. The event was moderated by Professor Chris Vials, Director of American Studies as the two discussed youth-led movements in the modern era, what is needed to work on social justice, as well as balancing your identity with a desire to make a change.
“What is activism anymore?” Kasky asked the crowd. A former student of Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, his life was changed after experiencing one of the most deadly and publicized school shootings in recent history. Along with fellow youth activist from Parkland, David Hogg, who held an event at UConn last year, Kasky has engaged in his fair share of multiple social movements that have risen to prominence nation-wide, like the Women’s March, Black Lives Matter and the Climate Strike. However, he questioned the state of activism in the era of social media. “We have these movements, and they’re all ‘This is bad,’ but what are the next steps?”
He mentioned a call to action to those wishing to become engaged in activism and social change.
“Don’t yell if you don’t know what you’re yelling about,” Kasky said about being conscientious about the limited platform that activists are given. “But also, listen. The smartest people I’ve met along the way, like the changemakers, are the people who listen a lot more than they talk. Chances are, no matter how energized and passionate you are, you have a lot to learn.”
“I feel like it was from a very partisan perspective on gun violence,” Nidhi Nair, a first-semester economics major, said. “But it was still coming from a person who has experienced such horrible things and that has value no matter what your personal opinions are, so I think it was an important talk that a lot of people our age should hear.”
As one of the most nationally-recognized names when it comes to the movement against gun violence, Kasky mentioned the importance of taking action against gun violence, but also about his departure from the March for Our Lives organization.
“I became so detached from my identity, not knowing who I was,” Kasky said. He mentioned his later realization about his bipolar disorder, which became central to his decision to focus on his mental health and his own identity. “My friends from Douglas are some of the most capable people in the world. They can handle it [March for Our Lives].”
Along with addressing the importance of taking action, Kasky offers three points for students to remember if they want to help make change.
“Stay true to yourself,” Kasky said. “Your identity fuels what you care about…Number two, a mixture of emotions and facts. If you have facts and no emotion or vice versa, you won’t be able to get your point across…Number three, community. You can’t do it alone, you can’t do it without a support team.”
Kasky talked about how a lot of work in activism and movements is done behind the scenes, and most of the most effective and passionate activists are virtually unknown to the mainstream media. Social media has also affected how we view movements, he says.
“If you think social media is the basis of activism, you’re wrong,” Kasky said. “The basis is work. Social media is the news that you pick. You need to realize that there are people in the world that don’t share your opinion.”
On campus, Kasky wants to call attention to the detrimental lack of discussion around mental health among men.
“Dudes don’t talk about mental health at all,” Kasky said. “At the root of toxic masculinity, as men we are encouraged by other men not to have feelings. That needs to change.”
Amidst all of the heavier topics that he discussed, Kasky managed to keep the tone light with humorous quips and relatable callbacks.
“I’m a Scorpio, I was always late to rehearsal, I’m in a long-distance relationship and it’s hard,” Kasky shared about his personal life. From using a Spongebob episode as a way to explain the concept of identity crisis and lamenting about a paper he has to write for tomorrow morning, Kasky demonstrated how a regular teen like himself, spurred by a catastrophic event but also a passion for a cause, could affect change while also balancing personal identity.
Hollie Lao is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.