An estimated 1 million students across the United States took part in Wednesday's coordinated school walkout in support of stricter gun laws.
We're not going to address or critique their message or motivation. Over the years, we've examined every atom of the gun rights debate from every possible direction or perspective. We know we will step into that pool again; we choose not to this time.
Instead, we're going to focus on the fact that in the year 2018 - with so many distractions and reasons to tune out, and a culture and technology that seems to de-emphasize personal connections - a million kids could get riled up enough about something to actually coordinate a response.
Yes, we've heard the sputtering about kids being entranced and used by outside agitators (that's a familiar line). We've heard the snickering that the only issue they were really interested in was getting out of class for 17 minutes. (The walkout lasted one minute for each victim killed in the Valentine's Day shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which prompted the protest.)
We'd be naive at best, blithering idiots at worst, to say none of that went on. One side of the gun debate absolutely wanted this event to be a success that would further its objectives, made sure to spread the word about it and probably did look at participants as pawns on a chess board. Some kids probably did play follow the leader to get tagged on social media as taking part in the spotlight event of the day. What kid doesn't jump at a chance to get out of class?
Still, to slather on tar there with the broadest of brushes, and dismiss the possibility that kids actually may be practicing what they've learned (at least we hope that's the case) about civic engagement to enact change strikes us as unfair. We'd feel the same way if a million kids had taken a stand for looser gun laws, or on any other compelling issue percolating in the U.S., from a liberal or conservative perspective.
No, kids shouldn't run things, as more than one pundit has indignantly reminded us. (TV commentator Tucker Carlson even made the ludicrous comment that students aren't citizens.)
No, schools shouldn't be disrupted by such protests. (Local officials, to their credit, took steps to prevent that from happening.)
No, kids shouldn't be free from consequences for their actions. Anyone of any age who gets involved in an issue as contentious as gun control should expect some heat (even if it's the silliness of being labeled "crisis actors"). Some school systems in the U.S. are planning to punish students who took part in the walkout; those kids should look to Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as examples of people who paid a price for taking stands.
However, those who poke at today's kids as slackers who drift through cyberspace with their noses stuck in electronic gadgets shouldn't begrudge their engagement in politics and civic affairs out of partisan disagreement.
Today's high school students, at a not-too-distant point, will be running our city, county, state and country. You may find that scary, but there's no preventing it. We'd prefer them to have a clue or two about the process when they get there.
REPRINTED FROM THE NEW BERN SUN JOURNAL