Fearlessly raising their voices about issues both national and local, Maine students are leading a youth-organizing renaissance that could be planting the seeds for a new generation of grassroots activism in our state.

This weekend’s massive, statewide March for Our Lives events that drew thousands to the streets in over a dozen simultaneous events heavily featured student organizers and speakers. In Portland alone, eight students took to the steps of city hall to address the several thousand marchers that shut down Congress Street. In the crowds were hundreds of students of all ages who gave up one of the nicest weekend days of the year so far to engage in organized grassroots political action.

Of course, for many of the students participating on Saturday, the marches were a seamless continuation of a rising wave of self-directed activism that they have been riding now for weeks–many who turned out over the weekend were earlier participants in the nation-wide school walkouts that drew thousands of students in all corners of the state. In many instances, Maine students stood up despite unsympathetic school administrations, which in some cases threatened a range of punishments for participants or tried to suppress the actions altogether.

Those students saw their actions occupy a full week of the state’s news cycle and open up a conversation about responsible gun regulation that many seasoned progressive organizers, with memories of the convincing defeat of the 2016 universal background check ballot initiative still fresh, frankly thought was impossible. But two years feels like a much more distant past for many high schoolers than it does for those made cynical by fights in the political trenches, and authentic youth movements have the power to upend established norms of political possibility because those at the helm are rarely burdened by the skepticism of those who tried and failed before them.

And Maine students aren’t keeping their disruption of norms limited to issues of national scope. Some, like those in Scarborough, have entered the stage as dynamic forces within the space of local politics, making news last week after the district’s embattled superintendent tried to halt a student-led voter registration drive organized as part of an increasingly messy fight between the school board, superintendent, students, teachers, and community members over school start times that apparently snowballed into the forced resignation of the high school’s principle and a nearly unanimous vote of no confidence in the superintendent from the teachers at Scarborough High School.

The students organized the registration drive, which culminated in 30 or more students registering and then walking to the nearby town office to sign recall petitions for three members of the town’s school board. The subsequent attempt by the district to halt the activity drew letters of concern and rebuke from Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap and the local chapter of the ACLU.

In my time as an organizer and activist in Maine–first as a young person and now as a slightly older young person–I cannot recall a time in recent history in which students came to understand their power as participants in the classroom as-political-space in such a robust and organized way. These young people are not asking for permission: they are building their own power, engaging with school administrations as negotiating partners, and making articulate demands both for the policies that they support and for the platforms that they have the right to speak from. They are enlisting existing political players as allies and building relationships with students in other schools. They are writing op-eds. They are making their voices heard on issues of great importance to them and are taking over the conversation.

It’s hard to overstate how impressive and difficult each of these actions are, and when taken together they speak to something that those in power, whether at the school board or at the Blaine House, will be forced to take seriously.

The preceding originally appeared on mainebeacon.com, a website and podcast created by progressive group the Maine People’s Alliance.

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