Last week’s student walkouts throughout the country stirred plenty of emotion. Regionally, students from many districts participated in a variety of ways, joining the movement sparked by the most recent shootings and deaths of 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Most seemed well-organized, solemn and respectful for both the issues which have touched off a firestorm of debate and the mild disruptions they presented for school administrators. The students, particularly those from that Florida high school, were articulate and sincerely dedicated to a cause.
There were several takeaways from those walkouts. But more than anything, students want to participate in a process of debate and advocacy. They are well-connected, smart as heck, and driven.
That goes against the stereotype of today’s youth. It goes against the all-too-frequent social media rants about this younger generation. Yes, they’re on their cell phones too often; we all are. But there’s a change in the air after the Florida shooting.
Certainly, school safety is driving much of this current debate. Solutions are predictably all over the map. And there will be plenty of debate, disagreements and frustrations through all of this. Not much is going to change, certainly not in any quick fashion. And not comprehensive enough to stop the next school shooting.
There will be more. More student deaths. More shock. More calls for prayer. More heartache. And then the familiar calls for change.
And nothing will.
That’s the frustration in all of this. Yet, that’s the stalemate these students want to end.
This debate goes far beyond student safety, although that’s a critical piece of any discussion. It goes far beyond the issue of mental illness, although it’s important. And it goes far beyond common-sense gun regulation, although it’s needed.
It’s about having respectful dialogue, which goes to the heart of a democracy. An effective, efficient process is so critical to coming up with a successful product.
Healthy discussion, debate and compromise take time and a common respect for process. And there is none right now, certainly not in Washington, D.C.
A respectful process of debate seems so far removed these days that political dysfunction has moved to one of this nation’s key issues. And that dysfunction has carried over to the broadcast media. It’s carried over to social media, where the true “fake news” was created. It was placed there and we gobbled it up, whether it was true or not. And then we passed it on without looking deeper.
It used to be different. I’ve covered and interviewed plenty of politicians in my day. And while there were plenty of disagreements on issues, there wasn’t the ugly nature of today’s debates and attacks. Former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson and former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger, both Republicans, were dedicated public officials. Durenberger was well-versed in health care issues; Carlson continues to speak out on a myriad of current issues.
Both were moderate Republicans, part of a dying breed.
When the late Sen. Paul Wellstone served in the U.S. Senate, he was largely considered the most liberal in the body; but through a passionate and intelligent display on issues, Wellstone earned the respect and friendship of many far more conservative than himself.
Much has changed. There has been a lack of respectful debate which has bubbled through society. And while social media, broadcast media and a willing public too busy to dive deep into the issues have all played significant roles, the causes run deeper.
We have moved into a critical period in our youthful democracy. We have to note that women didn’t secure the right to vote until 1920, over a century late. Racial minorities didn’t have a guaranteed right to vote until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965.
What I find truly wonderful is that this latest movement of activism is being led by a group that still can’t vote. So, in our youth once again, there is hope.