Monday, February 26, 2018

Back from Parkland. A new student movement is born.

I'm back from Parkland where I got a chance to talk with some Marjory Stoneman Douglas students, parents and educators in the aftermath of another catastrophic mass school shooting.

Like most of the country, I shared grief with the mourners and cheered on the dozens of MSD students who boarded the buses to Tallahassee to offer their reasonable gun control proposals to the state legislature only to be ignored and insulted by state pols.

Florida happens to be the state most averse to gun control legislation with a majority of state legislators receiving big campaign donations from the NRA. In FL, for example, if municipal officials pass a firearms-related law, they must pay a $5,000 fine and lose their jobs. They can also be forced to pay up to $100,000 in damages to any “person or an organization whose membership is adversely affected by any ordinance” —such as, say, the NRA.

To show how deep the divide is, the old, white male Republicans who rule the state, after refusing to meet with Parkland students to consider a ban on assault rifles, passed a resolution declaring that pornography endangers teenage health.

Refusing to be demoralized or turned around, not even by death threats from the right, the students are turning their grief and anger into militancy, organizing an NRA boycott, two national student walkouts against gun violence and lobbying for a ban on assault weapons. The shootings have sparked a new national movement with students taking the lead.

Students have traditionally been the igniters of larger and broader progressive social movements. That was true of the Civil Rights Movement (SNCC) anti-war and anti-imperialist youth revolt (SDS) of the '60s and the student uprisings here and in Europe 50 years ago.

The power of the youth movement rests in its embodiment of a vision that transcends the immediate demands and aims at reshaping the world in which the next generation will live, work, and lead.

But the emerging militant student movement alone, even with liberal supporters cheering them on and donating money, is incapable of carrying this struggle through to the end. But as it was in Paris, Berkeley, and Columbia University in '68, there is a basis for united action between students, communities of color (who are feeling the brunt of gun violence), and organized labor, now fighting the Janus decision for its very existence.

The current student protests may never approach the scope or depth of the '60s protest movement. It's impossible to predict. But hopefully, a unifying strategy will emerge from this new vital movement so that the students won't have to go it alone. 


  1. I agree. This column will appear in a number of suburban an rural mn newspapers over the next 2 weeks

    Youngsters and adults can reduce gun violence
    by Joe Nathan

    History tells us that young people trying to make America safer via better gun policies can make a difference. That’s if, and it’s a big if, they learn from past efforts to change America. Whether parents, grandparents or educators, adults can help youngsters understand what has and hasn’t worked to make America better.

    Young Minnesotans are joining others to urge changes in gun policies. As I write this column, a website lists efforts by students in Apple Valley, Chaska, Eden Prairie, Minneapolis, Minnetonka, Osseo, St. Paul and Wayzata. Info is found here:

    I can’t independently verify this. But clearly some youngsters are making plans.

    I’m not advocating here for a specific local, state or national policy. That’s beyond my expertise, although I strongly believe changes are needed.

    But I think adults should help young people understand past efforts to, for example, increase civil rights and end the war in Vietnam. Educators should help their students decide what to do without telling them what to do.

    Many years ago, activist Peter Marin wrote about the “open truth and fiery vehemence of youth.” Marin skillfully described the complexity of issues such as gun violence and the passion that many young people feel.

    Here are four lessons to consider.

    First, persistence is vital. Very few changes are made in a day, week or month. That is not meant to discourage youngsters. It is meant to help them understand in a democracy, change almost never happens quickly.

    Second, there are not just two “sides” in this, and many other controversies. Pulitzer Prize winner David Halberstam wrote a wonderful book about young civil rights activists, “The Children.” Halberstam makes clear that teenagers made a huge difference in the civil rights era. He documents that leaders and followers sometimes intensely disagreed about strategies and goals. Some favored demonstrations, while others promoted lawsuits, voter registration or “bus rides.” Some wanted to stress voting rights, while others focused on school integration or housing. There was no single “truth” about what the country should do or what strategies should be used.

    That leads to a third lesson: It’s wise to study the issue and listen to different viewpoints. Research on gun control is not always definitive.

    This is not a defense of the status quo. However, studying what has and has not worked in this and other countries makes a person more informed and potentially more effective.

    Fourth, coalitions can be helpful. I’m encouraged that some gun owners are speaking out publicly, saying that more must be done. Over decades of social change in America, we’ve learned that bringing together people who don’t always agree increases the likelihood that we’ll see progress.

    Young people also have plenty to teach older people like me. For example, I’m in awe of how some are using social media to organize and share information. And the passion that many youngsters bring to this effort is heartening. They are being heard.

    As I write this column President Donald Trump is being quoted by various news sources as saying: “We cannot merely take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference. We must actually make a difference.” I didn’t vote for President Trump and question many of his actions. But this statement suggests he is feeling pressure. That’s good.

    Educators call our current situation a “teachable moment.” Millions of young people are upset about school shootings and want to “do something.” Adults can help youngsters do something that makes this a safer country. — Joe Nathan (Editor’s note: Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, or @JoeNathan9249.)

  2. No real gun-control legislation is possible unless the 2018 elections clean house. Too many in Congress owned by the NRA.

  3. It should be noted how much was not changed by the protest movement.

    Students in the 1960's had been protesting for years. Riots in the streets, shutting down school campuses, bloody encounters with the police, fires, bombings, murdered students, and much more all on the evening news everyday.

    Still, Nixon won the 1968 and 1972 elections, enhanced the war, got a 2 year extension of the draft, secretly bombed Cambodia and other targets, doubled the death count in the war and openly lied to the American people numerous times. It wasn't the Vietnam war protests that forced Nixon to resign.

    Changing gun laws in this country is going to be very hard to do, in fact one of the hardest things America has tried to do to make a major change in our society, law and government. And it's not just a matter of defeating the NRA, which will have to be done.

    We used to have an AWB until the majority (Republicans) allowed it to lapse, but there wasn't much of a fight about that put up by the minority (Democrats). We have gone backwards in our gun laws while gun massacres like Parkland have increased. We can't even agree on simple things like gun safes, background checks, magazine size, etc..

    This is the kind of fight for change that will last generations and certainly the rest of the lives of the current student protesters.

    Don't give up! Let me know where I can send a check. Get petitions going. Start working for and supporting politicians that will commit to changing gun laws if they are elected. The talent of a community organizer like president Obama could be very helpful in grass root building all over the country. It's righteous, hard work. You will be saving lives. Keep repeating the bloody, outrageous statistics. Shock the people. Embarrass the people. Shame the people. Good luck.


Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.