Magazine Editor Sees Gun Control Activism as Biggest Moment for Teens Since Vietnam

On Saturday morning, the executive editor of Seventeen magazine, Joey Bartolomeo, boarded a bus filled with her colleagues and teens from the New York City area and headed for Washington, D.C.

Bartolomeo spoke with Independent Journal Review on her way to the March for Our Lives rally and, as someone whose job centers on being keyed into what teens care about, explained the shift she’s seen in recent years.

Since its founding in 1944, part of Seventeen’s mission has been to make teen girls’ voices heard, and within the last few years, the interest in activism has piqued.

“If you’re looking at specific aspects about being an activist, I think that’s really come up now with Gen Z, and it’s really something they’re so passionate about,” Bartolomeo explained.

She defined Gen Z as today’s high schoolers. And to highlight the enormity of the movement, Bartolomeo turned to history.

“When I saw this movement really pick up just over the last few weeks, I thought to myself, we haven’t seen anything like this since Vietnam,” she said. 

Tommy Truong79/Flickr

During the Vietnam War, students turned out in droves to protest, and she reiterated that until now, there hasn’t been a comparable movement. Bartolomeo explained:

“The way that people were being drafted back during the Vietnam War, it was all these young people being sent off and killed. Now, you’re seeing that again — teens looking at something and saying, ‘This is about us. This is important to us and we want to be heard.’ They’re getting their voices heard.”

She clarified that it’s different in terms of the issue at hand but drew the parallel that in both instances, it was a personal issue that young people took it upon themselves to speak out on.

Bartolomeo noted that both movements were also created out of a sense of powerlessness. Teens today are experiencing the same out-of-control phenomenon that burdened 18-year-olds during the draft at the height of the Vietnam War.

“People are coming into their schools, and they’re killing these teens,” she said. “Their friends are being killed, and they’re afraid.”

She added that just as in the Vietnam War era, students don’t want to feel powerless, so they’re taking action and want their representatives to do so as well.

However, a major difference between today and the Vietnam protests is the ability to mobilize on a mass scale through social media.

Fibonacci Blue/Flickr

Bartolomeo explained that just by picking up their cellphones, students are able to be connected to a movement and that it’s been “incredibly powerful” in bringing supporters together from across the country.

The executive editor pointed to the Columbine shooting and noted while it was in the news and there was attention on it, if there had been social media, it may have sparked a massive movement like the one today.

Another difference between Vietnam and today is that the people supporting the movement aren’t considered the “fringe,” as protesters were then.

Bartolomeo shared that Gen Z doesn’t experience the same stereotypes as previous generations. So athletes don’t have to just like sports and drama students don’t have to just be interested in drama. She explained:

“It’s really unifying all different teens. It’s cool to have a cause now … It’s not just about a group of kids that are protesting what the government is doing. It’s just something that’s very broad.”

Since Seventeen is a platform for girls’ voices, the magazine decided to charter a bus to bring girls to the march in D.C. The mission of the bus isn’t a political one, Bartolomeo explained, but one to bring the magazine’s platform to the real world.

“We’re not doing this to be political, we’re just doing this to help these girls be activists and join this movement, lend their voices to this movement,” she said. “We’re just letting girls tell their stories.” 

Allie Holloway/Seventeen

Just as Seventeen is using its bus to highlight the voices of the girls who are in support of stricter gun control measures, Bartolomeo would “absolutely” conduct an interview with a teen girl who’s on the other side of the debate.

“I think that’s an important part of the conversation, and we’re always encouraging our readers to be open to having discussions,” she told IJR. “That’s when things change, and you have to be open to hearing what other people have to say.”

While she sees the movement as overwhelmingly powerful already, she explained to IJR the real test will be at the voting booth.

“I think we’ll see in November if it’s really working — or even before that during some primaries — because that’s the real indication of if this movement really has the power that it seems like it does,” she said.

Given many of the students speaking out for gun control aren’t old enough to vote, she added that along with the results of elections, voter registration will be “key” in indicating the success of the movement.

Given the magnitude of people speaking out in favor of gun control — an estimated 500,000 people marching in Washington, D.C. and another 800 events around the world — Bartolomeo reasoned that, unlike Vietnam, those who aren’t protesting are considered today’s “fringe.”

What do you think?

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