This truth can’t be denied: some of the most significant changes in American society and culture have come from protests. And, looking back on recent history without the taint of politics, the most powerful of these changes have been driven by young people.
For those of us old enough to remember 1960’s and 1970’s, student protests – fraught with passion and sadly even violence -- pushed a nation to stop an unjust war. Our universities were, although some pushed back hard, the center of a national movement for peace. Even educational leaders used the bully pulpit that comes with their positions in power.
We now have another moral quandary in our nation, the all too frequent gunning down of innocent students in schools. Until the past few days, we had asked and hoped for solutions in the hands of our state and federal legislators, demanding they navigate the sticky wicket between the Second Amendment and legitimate enforceable and permissible gun restrictions, ammunition control, increased background checks and mandated waiting periods for permits and deliveries. To say there hasn't been much progress is an understatement of rather grand proportion, given the lives lost over the past decades and when compared to other nations.
But, as the high school students in Broward County from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are now realizing, not only have our past strategies not worked, they are unlikely to work – and certainly not with the speed needed for change. Gun limitations, students are rightly saying, is not a partisan issue; these are people issues.
The blood on the floors of our schools is all of one color.
The high school students in Broward County started a movement by organizing and protesting even as the tragedy was unfolding. It started with their reporting on the tragic events in their school as they occurred, becoming journalists covering their own tragedy and its aftermath. They started speaking up and out in the media. They have been startlingly articulate, their voices powerful and passionate. They lost friends and siblings and lovers, and they saw war up close and personal, way too young. They were not silenced. In fact, it was as if they were bolted into action -- instantaneously.
And in their sadness and anger and frustration, they formed as groups and other students are now joining in. Social media is helping them spread the word. And all these students – from Florida and beyond -- are fighting back. Look at @schoolwalkoutUS, now merged with @studentwalkout. Read the posts. Look at the protest scheduled for April 20th on the anniversary of Columbine. Other protects are planned and some have already taken place. Look at the power in numbers.
Here’s my plea as an educator to all the parents, teachers and administrators out there across our vast and diverse nation:
Encourage your own children and students to walk out in protest on April 20th. Enable your children and students to have their voices heard by those in power for that is how these students will garner power for themselves and their positions. Encourage them to be non-violent. Encourage them to have concrete solutions in hand; protesting without solutions does not necessarily produce change. And, we need change.
Last, champion their efforts if for no other reason than this: these young people are our future and they deserve a better world for themselves and their children than the one we seem to be leaving them. And, let them honor those who have died by inhabiting schools in which students, teachers, coaches and administrators are not facing fear daily and in which learning can occur.
And, if you are a hesitant as an adult, look at some of these images from the 1960’s and pick a poster that had meaning for you way back then and transport that feeling forward forward. Maybe some of that youthful passion that was so powerful back then will ring true in your memory and enable you to support the youthful protesters who rightly marching today.
They are doing what we did: fighting because there is unnecessary the blood of our friends on the floor. They need to win.
Karen is an educator and an author. Prior to becoming a college president, she was a tenured law professor for two plus decades. Her academic areas of expertise include trauma, toxic stress, consumer finance, overindebtedness and asset building in low income communities. She currently serves as Senior Counsel at Finn Partners Company. From 2011 to 2013, She served (part and full time) as Senior Policy Advisor to the US Department of Education in Washington, DC. She was the Department's representative on the interagency task force charged with redesigning the transition assistance program for returning service members and their families. From 2006 to 2014, she was President of Southern Vermont College, a small, private, affordable, four-year college located in Bennington, VT. In Spring 2016, she was a visiting faculty member at Bennington College in VT. She also teaches part-time st Molly Stark Elementary School, also in Vt. She is also an Affiliate of the Penn Center for MSIs. She is the author of adult and children’s books, the most recent of which are titled Breakaway Learners (adult) and Lucy’s Dragon Quest. Karen holds a bachelor degree in English and Spanish from Smith College and Juris Doctor degree (JD) in Law from Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law.