John Meacham, the erudite presidential historian, was asked if he thought the protest by the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School would change the gun laws in this country. He said that, much as he admired the students, he doubted it very much. He said that change takes a long time so, even if change happened, it wouldn’t be soon.
He gave two examples of the long time it takes to create social change. One example was Abigail Adams, writing to her husband in 1776 to “remember the ladies” in regard to female rights as he was working with others to produce the Declaration of Independence, but it took 144 years before women had the right to vote. The other example was that the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863, but 100 years later, in the 1960’s, blacks were still battling for their civil rights and racism continues to plague our country today.
Not everyone doubts that the students will produce a substantive social change. Dahlia Lithwick, who writes about the courts and the law for Slate, is optimistic about the students’ success in changing the gun laws in this country. She is optimistic because she sees ways in which the students are creating social change that are different from how adults of the present operate and how efforts of the past went down. Dahlia Lithwick says that the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students are different because:
1. They are ignoring Donald Trump. They regard him as a symptom of the problem of gun violence and unworthy of credit or blame. They stay focused on and give their attention to the problem itself.
2. They don’t waste time and energy arguing with people who don’t share their values and goals. They don’t attempt gentle persuasion; they know they are being lied to.
3. They don’t seem hell-bent on having leaders. They share the spotlight with one another and take turns being the spokesperson. They seem to relish the collaboration they share.
4. They expect to win. They don’t have the fatalism of older progressives who persuade themselves that the NRA and Republican interests are too powerful to overcome so give up before they begin. They show us what being awake, alive, human, and compassionate actually looks like.
Dahlia Lithwick concludes that, because the students are unconstrained by our norms, they will accomplish wonders.
Diane Ravitch agrees and writes this about the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and all the other high school students across the country who stand with them:
Students care, and they are not afraid. They are idealistic. They want fairness. They want justice. They have energy. They have not been beaten down by the system. No one can accuse them of being self-interested, unless self-interest means they hope to stay alive.
I’m betting on the kids. And I’m betting on our democracy working.