Today, all over the country at 10 a.m., school children will exercise one of America’s most fundamental rights. In an act of (hopefully) ringing civil disobedience, they will walk out of their classrooms for seventeen minutes in protest of the lack of government action on sensible gun control. In the wake of the Parkland shooting and our national government’s subsequent groveling at the feet of the NRA, students across the nation will seek to make themselves and their opinions heard through this act.
Good for them.
Today of all days I think it is important to remember that civil disobedience has shaped our country in some wonderful ways.
- Without civil disobedience, women would not have the right to vote.
- Without civil disobedience, African Americans would still be enslaved.
- Without civil disobedience, we’d all be paying taxes to Great Britain.
And yet, this week alone, I have seen some horrible reminders that civil disobedience can (and usually is) forced to become militant.
Consider the case of the two Seattle Seahawks football players going to practice who were followed by a woman who screamed at them that they better not kneel during the national anthem because her tax money paid for them to play football. I won’t even address the tax money fallacy or even that she was screaming obscenities at two men who aren’t actually known for kneeling during the national anthem. My problem with this is that they have every right to kneel during the national anthem if they want to and feel the need. Hell, the way things are in our country right now, I have a hard time keeping my knees from buckling during the pledge of allegiance and national anthem rituals I once embraced wholeheartedly.
But worse than that were the comments I read on a local news story about how school systems in our county are dealing with the school walkout. Two school systems issued statements promising to support the students in peaceful protests and to provide safe spaces for them to do so. Comments on the online story ranged from supportive to a some really ugly sentiments like the students were making themselves targets by walking out of the school and one from a parent who said no kid of hers better take part in such a display.
Are today’s young people willing to make their peaceful cause a militant one? Women were imprisoned and beaten for demanding their right to vote—and they kept marching and demanding. In the 1960s, some—not all—African Americans fought back against similar treatment when their peaceful sit-ins and marches were threatened. The Black Panthers were a frightening and militant group who were ready and willing to kill for their cause.
And, possibly the most poignant history lesson of all to every American citizen out there, when throwing tea into the Boston Harbor in protest of British taxes didn’t have the desired effect on the British government, war was the result.
So listen to your children. They aren’t tomorrow’s voices anymore. They are today’s, and you ignore those voices at your own peril.