There’s a youth movement, some might call it an uprising, brewing across the nation on the heels of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida. Whether it’s sustainable remains to be seen.
A high school generation considered mostly apolitical is finding its voice, and it’s loud and angry. The young survivors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas are demanding action, flooding the Florida Capitol in an effort to get legislation limiting gun sales. They were quickly turned down, but so far the students, their parents and supporters haven’t backed down. They used a CNN town hall meeting Wednesday night to grill Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and go after a representative of the National Rifle Association.
President Donald Trump held a listening session with some students and parents on Wednesday to share ideas. Trump was elected largely because he tapped into a segment of society that felt ignored. He may see a similar situation with the students.
There’s been a call for a national school walkout on March 14. Students, teachers and administrators are being urged to leave their classrooms for 17 minutes, the number of dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. There also are plans for a March for Our Lives on March 24 in Washington, D.C., and another national school walkout on April 20, the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine school massacre in Colorado.
It’s no surprise that the organizers of these events are encountering opposition. Critics say the students are too young and inexperienced to organize national events, that they have been hijacked by other groups promoting an anti-gun agenda. They point to celebrities promising large donations to help the cause as proof that the effort is fueled by outside interests, not the students.
The Tribune Editorial Board believes many people haven’t been paying attention. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas survivors are articulate and have been demonstrating the ability to think for themselves. They admit to being afraid to return to school because they no longer feel safe. They find that unacceptable and are telling the nation that it’s time to find solutions. A generation we are fond of calling our future and at the same time lamenting because we think they are too self-centered, is stepping up.
The high school students across the nation obviously don’t speak with one voice on what needs to be done to curb school violence. Students in North Dakota will have a different perspective on gun ownership and rights than students in large urban schools. It doesn’t mean they can’t relate to the concerns of students in other parts of the nation.
School administrators in Bismarck and Mandan are taking the right approach to potential walkouts or demonstrations. They won’t dismiss classes, but they won’t prohibit students from participating. Bismarck is asking parents to give their children permission to take part. Staff or faculty members who want to participate will have to use their own leave time.
It’s a much better approach than a school district southwest of Houston that’s threatening students with three-day suspensions if they take part in protests during school hours, whether on school grounds or not. They also won’t accept notes from parents. The school district is being accused of potentially violating the students’ First Amendment rights.
The school threat reminded some of a case during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. An Iowa school district banned students from wearing black armbands to protest the war. In a case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court, Tinker v. Des Moines, the justices ruled that students and teachers do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
The students in Florida and across the nation want to be heard and we should listen. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas survivors are typical students who have been tossed into an extraordinary situation. The time has come to find compromises the majority can live with, and we stress live. We can’t expect to stop the killing immediately, but we can begin the process of making society safer.
If we succeed we can thank some Florida kids who wouldn’t take it anymore.