Youth leading us to right side of history

March for Our Lives

Hundreds of thousands of youth are expected to protest tomorrow in the March for Our Lives — a student-led movement calling for legislation to effectively address gun violence.

Since the Feb. 14 massacre that claimed 17 lives in Parkland, Fla., the survivors and their peers have organized more than 800 demonstrations around the United States and abroad.

Regardless of where you stand on gun control, it’s hard to deny the energy and efficiency these students have shown in organizing on this scale in this amount of time.

But, some do deny the role these students are playing in the call for sensible gun laws.

Go ahead — scroll through the comments on any post related to this issue and see how quickly you find a claim that the youth are just manipulated stooges for some grand leftist conspiracy.

This conspiracy bunk falls in line with the early (and inexcusably vile) attempts to discredit Parkland survivors with claims that they’re “crisis actors” and FBI moles.

To their credit, some NRA-backed politicians have pushed back on this nonsense. On Feb. 20, Marco Rubio summed it up well: “Claiming some of the students on TV after #Parkland are actors is the work of a disgusting group of idiots with no sense of decency.”

Others have been more subtle in belittling the youth movement.

I present Bill “Papa Bear” O’Reilly, also on Feb. 20: “The big question is: should the media be promoting opinions by teenagers who are in an emotional state and facing extreme peer pressure in some cases?”

No, Papa Bear, the big question is: Why do people still listen to someone lewd enough to get fired from Fox News?

But, the core of the disgraced Fox News icon’s message is widely-embraced: We shouldn’t listen to these students because they’re “just kids.”

Youth don’t have the experience of their elders.

So, why should we listen to them?

Matt Post, a student from Montgomery County, Md., answered that question last Wednesday in a speech outside the U.S. Capitol: “The adults have failed us. This is in our hands now.”

Adults have pathetically failed to make any substantial response to our nation’s gun violence epidemic. The kids have seen our failure, and now they’re doing something about it.

Snicker and ignore them if you will, but a brief look at history shows why we should listen.

Some of the most iconic images of the Civil Rights Movement are of students being menaced by police dogs and blasted with fire hoses in the streets of Birmingham.

The Children’s Crusade, as it came to be known, saw about 2,300 mostly black students face beatings and arrest over two days as they protested Jim Crow.

Their courage helped break the fear-induced apathy of their elders, and from lunch counters to marches, youth remained a critical component in the (still ongoing) struggle for equality.

It was students who led the peaceful Soweto Uprising in 1976. At least 176 students paid with their lives, and it was a turning point in the fight against apartheid in South Africa.

Gandhi was only 24 when he founded the Natal Indian Congress in South Africa, a youth-led movement against apartheid that would carry over to the independence movement in India, which, again, was carried largely on the backs of students.

Regardless of what you think of the issues (maybe you think Britain should still be in India?) there’s a fact that can’t be denied: These large student movements forever changed the societies in which they took root.

Whether it was in Bengal or Birmingham, Soweto or Savannah, when students of the last century saw their elders fail to improve an unjust society, they took things in hand.

And they changed the world, casting their opposition where it belongs — on the wrong side of history.

The students who will take to the streets tomorrow march in that tradition. They have seen us fail. They will act in our stead.

And, if we want to be on the right side of history, we will listen.

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