Us Kids – the bright light of activism in a broken political system

Us Kids is now showing at Sheffield Doc Fest.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

On Valentine’s Day 2018, a nineteen-year-old man walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, armed with a semi-automatic rifle, before murdering seventeen people: fourteen students and three staff. Parkland was another grim milestone of mass shootings across America, with over 230 gun-related incidents recorded in schools alone since the horror of Columbine in 1999. Once again, the horror of Parkland would raise questions about the United States’ obsession with guns and the lack of adequate gun control. But Parkland would also unleash the anger of a young generation tired of living in fear as they wrestled the urgent need for change away from the adults and politicians who had continued to fail them. Kim A. Snyder’s feature documentary Us Kids explores this youth movement, highlighting the drive, determination, and pain of young activists who fought for change following the death of their friends, teachers and classmates.

Snyder’s documentary focuses on the voices of the Parklands survivors and the young activists they have become, never straying from the brave, bold and emotional youth-led campaign for change in America’s gun laws. Here, the brutality of the American political system is laid bare as each young person finds themselves fighting a battle for the very soul of America and the safety of its people in a dangerously divided political world. As they campaign with a fearless spirit, many young Parkland students, from Emma Gonzalez to David Hogg and Cameron Kasky, become household names. Yet with this comes the toxicity of a divided America and the hate of a pro-gun lobby that appears less worried about seventeen-year-olds being shot in their classrooms and more concerned about their right to bear arms. I watched in sheer horror as the politicians felt empowered to threaten seventeen-year-olds alongside a right-wing tabloid media who declared them insincere, false and crisis actors. Here, the ‘Make America Great Again’ brutes are out in force, smearing, lying and threatening anyone suggesting a background check before buying a gun is a good idea.

Gun control may seem distant for us in the United Kingdom; after all, this country has strict gun ownership rules where even our police do not carry weapons as standard, and thankfully, most UK schools remain free of metal detectors and security guards at entrances and exits. However, the issues discussed in Us Kids also translate to our own discussions on knife crime, as adults rather than kids steer responses, while politically motivated projects replace proactive and responsive youth services. Like me, you may ask whether it’s time young people led the response to knife crime or were at least politically engaged in challenging our politicians. Here, Us Kids raises essential questions about the importance of youth involvement in politics and the need to reduce the voting age to maintain this active involvement.

Us Kids offers hope in a world that often appears to descend into darkness daily. This ray of hope is found in each young person willing to raise their voice in a broken political system. Here, the power of their grass-roots political activism is a welcome tonic in a political world of elitism, division, and corruption. I can only hope that among these brave young people is a future leader who will Make America Sensible and Inclusive again.

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