Are activists the new celebrities?

The Parkland survivors grace the cover of Town & Country, a luxury travel magazine.
The Parkland survivors grace the cover of Town & Country, a luxury travel magazine.
Image: Getty Images/Bryan Bedder
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

New York, New York

Yesterday’s (May 9) Town & Country Philanthropy Summit, held at the Hearst Tower in Manhattan, was predictably posh. Dotted with political heavy hitters, media moguls, and celebrities sipping complimentary green juice, the day’s program included the likes of Bradley Cooper, Karlie Kloss, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, as well as opening remarks delivered by Bill Clinton (Monica Lewinsky was also invited, but reportedly had her invitation rescinded “because bill clinton then decided to attend/was invited,” she wrote in a tweet).

But the Summit’s most anticipated panelists were a group of 18-year-olds, introduced by the 42nd president, who promptly got out of their way as the four young people were given the most robust standing ovation of the day.

The teens were Emma González and Delaney Tarr, survivors from February’s shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, as well as Alex King and D’Angelo McDade, students from Chicago’s North Lawndale College Prep who had both experienced and lost family members to gun violence. The four also grace one of three covers for Town & Country’s May edition—a spot historically reserved for the very wealthy, very philanthropic, and more recently, the very famous. What’s more, their image is accompanied by a cover story written by Jimmy Kimmel, the premier interviewer of celebrities. The other two covers feature Kloss and Miranda.

González, especially, has become something of a household name, drawing national attention following a viral speech she gave blasting politicians and the NRA following the Parkland shooting, (she noted at the event that she wrote the speech in “3 hours, the morning of”).

She has since emerged an outspoken activist on gun control—making numerous high profile media appearances—including a spot on the Ellen DeGeneres show, as well as an internationally televised town hall hosted by CNN. Furthermore, she and other activists young activists—Jaclyn Corin, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, and Alex Wind—appeared on the cover of Time in March.

Indeed, it seems that activists are seeing an unprecedented moment of celebrity—such as when the pioneers of the #MeToo movement accompanied celebrities on the red carpet at this year’s Golden Globes. And this trend is a fascinating reversal of the celebrity-turned-activist career path: Activism, of course, is an everyday side hustle for the world’s more conventionally famous (i.e. actors, musicians or models).

Famous activists, on the other hand, are less common—with the activist more often recognized posthumously (try Googling ‘famous activists’). But globally, activists—especially the young ones—are reaching new levels of stardom. Malala Yousafzai is a striking early example of someone who has achieved a level of worldwide fame, but even Yousafzai–perhaps because she’s busy studying at Oxford—hasn’t seen the type of, well, celebrity treatment American activists now seem to be generating.

The rapid-fire pace of social media could be the cause of these new, celeb-level activists—or maybe the world is witnessing an unprecedented level of publicly “performed” altruism. That said, the Town & Country panel the Parkland survivors spoke on was called titled ‘Activism: The New Philanthropy.’ And as this name suggests, philanthropy—an activity, typically reserved for the very rich—is starting to confer greater importance on actual activist-style hard work. Whether this movement is temporary, or reflective of a deeper shift, remains to be seen. As does whether the world’s great philanthropists and celebrities will roll up their own sleeves and join in with the new young Emmas of the world.