Here they come, yeah
Some are laughing, some are crying
Here they come
And some are doing, some are trying
Some are selling, some are buying
Some are living, some are dying
But demanding recognition one by one
Enter the young, yeah
Yeah, they’ve learned how to think
Enter the young, yeah
More than you think they think
Not only learned to think, but to care
Not only learned to think, but to dare
Enter the young
“Enter The Young” – The Association
Among the many amazing things about this past Saturday’s “March For Our Lives,” one thing that stands out to me is its genesis. Only four days after the school shooting in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a group of the surviving students announced the march on Washington, DC. Only 34 days after that, over 1,000,000 people participated in the Washington march or in one of about 800 other marches in every state of the country and every continent except Antarctica.
School shootings have been occurring in the United States ever since November 12, 1840, when law professor John Anthony Gardner Davis was shot at the University of Virginia by student Joseph Semmes, However, for over 120 years such shootings have generally involved few people and were precipitated by some kind of beef between the shooter and the victim(s).
However, on August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman randomly shot and killed 16 people and injured 31 more in what became known as the “University of Texas Tower Shooting” in Austin, Texas.
Such random school shootings have subsequently taken place with an alarming frequency, including Columbine on April 20, 1999 (12 dead, 21 injured; Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007 (33 dead, 23 injured); Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012 (28 dead, 2 injured); Umpqua Community College on October 1, 2015 (10 dead, 9 injured); and – of course – Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018 (17 dead, 14 injured).
In addition, there have been numerous other random mass shootings in the US, including the Orlando nightclub Pulse on June 12, 2016 (49 dead, 58 injured); the Sutherland Springs Church on November 5, 2017 (26 dead, 20 injured); and Las Vegas on October 1, 2017 (58 dead, 851 injured).
After every mass shooting, calls for stricter gun control have been deflected by gun rights advocats’ unctuous offers of “thoughts and prayers” for the victims. As the death toll from gun violence of all kinds (school shootings, other mass shootings, and the steady stream of other shootings), frustration has grown over the lack of change in policies and laws to address this problem. Even advocacy groups like Everytown For Gun Safety have been unable to make headway on this issue.
And then suddenly, in the space of 38 days, students from Parkland and many other places around the country have created a groundswell of support for addressing gun violence. While it’s too soon to say how successful they’ll be in the long run, it’s hard to deny their effectiveness at mobilizing a great number of people for this cause.
How they’ve done it will be a subject of study for many. But I think part of the answer can be found in their time in history. I’ve written before that many people in power today came of age and gained power in a different world – before modern technology revolutionized so much of our daily lives. As I noted eight years ago in “Failing Institutions”:
“…many institutions are failing because they haven’t adapted to the ways our world has changed. One thing that’s striking about many of the big institutions finding themselves in hot water these days is that a big part of their problem appears rooted in a mistaken belief that they are able to tightly manage/control the information about problematic issues. Toyota had problems with car defects; it tried to hide them. The Church had problems with perverted priests; it tried to hide them. Goldman Sachs had problems with very risky investments and very shady dealings to get rid of them; it tried to hide them. Tiger Woods had a thing for cocktail waitresses; he tried to hide it.”
In all cases like these, the inability of those in charge to recognize and adapt to today’s world just made things worse.
“However, they apparently didn’t realize that in today’s hyper-connected world it’s almost inevitable that bad things will come to light – whether it’s vehicle flaws, priests behaving badly, devious investment strategies, or adulterous affairs. And now when the news DOES come out, the impact is likely to be much greater than it might have been before the Internet and global communications – especially if it’s apparent there was a cover-up involved.”
For years we’ve been witnesses to the growing incompetence of many in power. We’ve also seen an increasingly frantic reaction by many to the ways our world has changed. There’s a sizable subset of our society who would like to turn back the clock to the 1950s – or even earlier. They’ve been like King Canute vainly ordering the tide not to come in. If we are going to continue to be a dynamic, vital nation, their wishes are impossible to fulfill.
But the tide will always come in of its own accord, and a healthy society will always be changing. The solutions for our current problems will come from those familiar with today’s world. As I noted in 2010: “When the times are changing, the ones who understand and adapt to those changes will be the ones who thrive in what comes.”
The young people who have brought us so quickly to a possible tipping point in the gun control debate have always known today’s world. The Internet, social media, the tricks and quirks of the modern news media – these things have been a part of their lives since they were born. While many of us have been stuck in the past, they have only known the present.
What these young people have done in the past 40 days may be just a foreshadowing of what they might accomplish going forward. For me, being at the Albany march on Saturday and seeing the spirit of the young people there gave me the greatest sense of optimism since 2016.