This Holy Week in the Christian world is an excellent time to put last Saturday’s “March for Our Lives” in perspective. While millions of Americans found the marches for gun control inspiring, many others were skeptical wondering “What do these kids know?” Older people have been groaning about the young in politics for centuries. Yet, in the late 19th century, during a very dark political time for the U.S., the young people helped save democracy. Can they do it again?
Young people have always been involved in American politics, primarily as unpaid labor doing work behind the scenes; making posters, handing out campaign information, running errands and other unglamorous jobs. The young were never allowed to champion themselves or their opinions, being told by established politicians to simply follow the party’s platform.
At the end of the 19th century, according to John Grinspan, Smithsonian historian and author, young people cried out to be heard on their issues. A new generation of young people denounced current leaders and partisanship. They demanded reforms. In 1898, one New Yorker summarized their movement as “the younger generation hates both parties equally.”
At the start of the 20th century, the youth movement put an end to extreme polarization; forcing both parties to pursue its issues and concerns. Independent young voters became a decisive third force, with enough clout to swing close elections. Politicians supported them and their agenda, creating the Progressive Era, which included cleaning up cities and passing laws protecting workers. Though unable to personally vote, women played a key role. Women worked to refocus American life toward social issues, built schools and fought child labor.
Mr. Grinspan argues that the key to understanding youth politics is that young people can’t “focus simply on benefits for the young.” Youth is temporary and gains are passed on. The high school seniors who marched Saturday across the country will hopefully make their schools safer well after they have graduated. Mr. Grinspan concludes that the young should set the nation’s political agenda as they will be here much longer than the rest of us.
Today’s young have much work to do. The solutions the marchers want certainly depend on winning elections. Ultimately, it’s not about standing up to be heard, but about accomplishing political change. These kids didn’t spontaneously emerge from Florida a month ago. They and millions like them were born after 9/11. They have grown up with the worry of guns in their classrooms and the threat of terrorism for their entire lifetime. Many have perceived that our grown-up generations have been stripping our nation’s resources, allowed or assisted in the destruction of the middle class, added trillions of dollars of debt to our nation’s finances and have allowed politics to sink into tribalism. They’ve been watching us and our mistakes and they’ve decided it’s not for them. We all have much to learn from these children and their perspective and they deserve our support.
In honor of Holy Week, it seems a very appropriate time to read Matthew 19:13-14 (from the new living translation): “Then the little children were brought to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them and pray for them; and the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.’”
DWM wishes you and your family a wonderful Easter weekend!!