I honestly don't have a clue what impact there will be from the March for Our Lives rallies around the country over the weekend. They were impressive in numbers, but how that results in action and voter turnout remains to be seen. However, there are a few observations that I think one can make.
That Trump ran away from Washington, D.C. to Mar-a-Lago and didn't also make a single statement about the rallies was a profound mistake. There are estimates that perhaps 800,000 people came to Washington, which would make it the largest such-rally in U.S. history, and probably several hundred thousand other Americans attended rallies around the country. So, by most-any measure, this clearly is an issue of importance. And in a new poll, 69% of Americans now saw that gun laws should be tightened, the highest number that has ever been. It's not that merely hiding and being silent risks being seen as cowardly or as foolishly disingenuous (given how Trump had earlier slammed a police officer for not running into semi-automatic gunfire inside the school and grandiosely had said how he himself would have done so, only to run away when they very students peacefully came to him), but it removes his voice from the discussion. Anything he says now and especially as the mid-terms near is too late. He's ceded the podium to others. He's most-especially ceded the podium to the high school students who have been eloquent and impactful, but also to public officials and candidates who have been outspoken for years on gun control.
Marco Rubio put out a tweet on the day of the march in which his takeaway on the rallies was basically that while he respected people expressing their First Amendment rights, those very same First Amendment rights were infringing on other people's Second Amendment rights. For all the thoughtful analysis one could make about the issue this past weekend, that does not seem to be a smart or well-advised one. Not only because it misses the point or focuses attention on Rubio's $3 million donations from the NRA, but almost more so because, of all the states in the country, Rubio represents Florida -- the very place where Stoneman Douglas High School is located, in Parkland, Florida. The direct center of the storm that brought all these marches about. A state so pounded by the tragedy that they actually passed gun control laws in its wake -- minimum changes, to be sure, but any change in a state like Florida is significant. And Sen. Rubio (R-FL), who represents these very people, turned a blind eye to it and made his position vocal. It's hard to imagine that the forces who put together rallies of over a million people across the country will forget their own senator in their own backyard who represents them.
Commentator and TV host Hugh Hewitt posted a bizarre tweet that said (and I paraphrase, but only slightly) he doesn't listen to 17-year-olds because they're only 17-years-old and don't know anything, especially about military history, so their voice is meaningless, which is why he would never have a 17-year-old on his radio or TV shows, and he doesn't even remember the stupid things he probably said when he was 17. To start with, when Hewitt was 17, it was 1973, the very year that the Vietnam War finally ended after 17-year-olds and others as young and "ignorant" had taken to the streets for half-a-decade in protest and draft-card burning, ripping at the fabric of society. Moreover, all those protests, marches and rallies had already driven one president from running again, and only a year later another president, Richard Nixon, would resign from office. Yet, Hewitt says he can't remember what stupid things he was thinking at age 17. They must have been pretty stupid and empty to forget all that. Furthermore, it's important to remember that all these people who are today 17 and too empty-headed to even just talk to Hugh Hewitt on his shows, in just one year they will be able to vote for all public officials, including president, and legally buy any gun, including an AR-15 semi-automatic weapon -- and can already join the military to risk their lives defending the country. They're just not old enough to talk to Hugh Hewitt on the radio. Moreover, if one actually did listen to these 17-year-olds who spoke at the rallies -- and those younger -- you'd have heard some very smart and eloquent people. But even if you didn't listen, all you had to do was open your eyes and see that starting from the actions of these 17-year-olds, over a million Americans rallied to their cause. Which brings up the larger point -- this isn't about Hugh Hewitt only, but rather about all the great many conservatives who were equally as publicly dismissive of "the kids." (Including the bizarrely ever-tone deaf Rick Santorum, who suggested that high school students learn CPR for the next gun attack, rather than march.) You close your ears and eyes to voices and actions as substantive as these at your own risk.
Which leads to a final observation.
I don't know if all of this will lead to more voting by younger people than is usual. History shows that younger voters are apathetic in elections, especially mid-terms. But then, most of these past results don't come tied to rallies of a million people. In addition, what history also shows is that when young people do get roused to act for some reason -- usually because they see their lives at risk in some way -- there is, in fact, significant change. It's true that young people don't usually vote or get involved. But when they do, we get the Vietnam protests. We get the Civil Rights protests. We get the Arab Spring. All which changed society. And if you want to go back a lot farther -- this is about what history shows us, after all -- you can place a marker at the French Revolution. That was student driven, lest anyone forgets. I have no idea what will come of this student-driven activity. Perhaps nothing. But to comfortably rely on that, to rely on youthful apathy risks ignoring the brush fires around you that history shows can swell out of your control.
The larger reality of all this is that it's not merely about "the kids." Gun violence has been horrifying the vast majority of Americans for decades. And almost all of them can vote. And are angry enough on this and many issues this year to go to the polls. And many of those 17-year-olds will be able to vote in November. And they and today's 16-year-olds -- you know, the ones who helped show up among the million rallying -- will be able to vote in 2020. And it's about an issue that affects their lives. And affects the lives of anyone who goes to a house of worship, or nightclub, or outdoor concert. And anyone who sends their children off to school that day, hoping they'll come home safely.
But sure, leave town. Avoid seeing them. Don't listen to them. Don't invite them in to talk to. Blame them for daring to infringe on the rights of the guns.
I honestly don't have a clue what impact there will be from the March for Our Lives rallies around the country over the weekend. Pretty much the only two things I feel comfortable in knowing are one, that willful ignorance is no virtue and tends not to work in one's favor. And two, the protest marches are not stopping at Saturday.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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