A huge number of students across the United States left their classes Wednesday morning to remember the victims of last month’s Florida shooting and to show their support for gun-control legislation. As Joe Heim and Marissa Lang put it in The Post today, the National Student Walkout is “unprecedented in recent American history.”
Let’s be clear about what’s going on here. Since the shooting at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School in Parkland, Fla., in which 17 people, mostly young, were killed, students have used social media, confronted politicians and worked with established organizations to build a nationwide movement for gun control. It may be the most vital and strong such movement we’ve seen in years.
On Wednesday, students walked away from their desks not just at high schools but also at colleges and even elementary schools to participate in the event, which has also been dubbed the National Walkout Day.
In Portland, Maine, where schools were closed due to a severe snowstorm, two dozen students from King Middle School arranged to meet at nearby Monument Square. In Alexandria, several dozen children, many of whom were met by their parents, walked out of a local school in an action led by two 11-year-old students.
“In the beginning, our principal wasn’t completely supportive, but by the second or third day of doing this, that week, he was completely supportive,” one protester told the Guardian. “Nobody expects a bunch of 10- and 11-year-olds to stand up and start walking out of the school building.”
While the protests were larger in the blue states where they enjoy strong support from adults — in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) joined a group of high school students protesting in Zuccotti Park — others walked out in smaller numbers. At a high school in Marietta, Ga., where the school’s 1,000 students were reportedly “warned against” taking part in the protest, three students left the building despite the presence of police officers meant to discourage the action.
Even corporations are beginning to join in. Viacom, the corporate parent of Comedy Central and MTV, released a statement headlined “Viacom to support courageous youth activists who have had enough of gun violence,” and allowed its television channels to go blank for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. Wednesday to signify support for the school walkout. Lyft recently announced it would offer students complementary transportation to the next expected mass action, a March 24 march on Washington and in other cities called March For Our Lives.
As this shows, not all this action is taking place without adult assistance. The mass action Wednesday was initially planned by the organizers of the Women’s March. This has led some to claim that student are being manipulated by greater adult left-wing forces: Fox News commentator Todd Starnes claimed the media is “cynically using a lot of traumatized teens” to attack President Trump, while former Milwaukee sheriff David Clarke tweeted that some of the organizing has “GEORGE SOROS’ FINGERPRINTS all over it.” (Yes, the caps are his.)
But this idea — which is half concern trolling and half conspiracy theorizing — is absurd. This movement started not with adult action but in conversations between Parkland students in the hours after the massacre at their school, and it quickly spread to social media. It took almost everyone by surprise.
It shouldn’t have, of course. The struggle for gun regulations deserves a mass movement. The United States has more gun violence than any other First World country. We are responsible for almost one-third of mass shootings in the entire world over the past several decades. Mass shootings continue to occur even as violent crime is mostly falling in the United States. Many types of gun regulations enjoy broad popular support.
What’s more, the issue demonstrates how politicians of both parties remain captured by interest groups and lobbyists — I’m looking at you, National Rifle Association — while selling out the wants and needs of the people who elected them. When the teenagers of Parkland — perhaps traumatized, perhaps furious — began to speak truth to power, it turned out there were millions of Americans, both children and adults, simply waiting for someone to begin to demand change and refuse to accept no for an answer.
Don’t get me wrong. No one is expecting immediate movement on the issue — Trump, for one, is so in thrall to the NRA that he quickly backed away from his promises of action. It’s going to be a long slog. But momentum appears to be on the side of the teens. And little wonder: They possess more energy and enthusiasm, and, in the time-honored way of youth, they are less cynical about what can be accomplished. The kids are all right.