Anyone used to worrying about coddled young people, their backbone eroded by oversolicitous elders and smartphone addiction, was in for a surprisingly mature show of spine at last weekend’s March for Our Lives. The Parkland, Florida, survivors-turned-prodigy-activists and their followers—along with Dreamers and other youthful protesters lately—couldn’t possibly be denounced as out-of-control “bums,” President Nixon’s epithet for (older) student protesters half a century ago.
Quite the contrary. These young people do grit and gumption with star-pupil poise and politeness. “Sorry for the inconvenience,” read one teenager’s sign at the Washington, D.C., rally. “We’re trying to change the world.” Nearby, a kid proudly waved a neon-orange poster that proclaimed, in big letters, “GPA > NRA.” The call-and-response chant that carried the day, under the direction of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 9-year-old granddaughter, conveyed the same overachiever zeal: “Spread the word all across the nation, we are going to be a great generation.” The Parkland student Emma González’s feat of silence at the podium, as the writer Nathan Heller tweeted, defied category: “the fact that it was conceived—and dared—by a high-schooler is breathtaking.” The adults on hand didn’t presume to boss off-the-charts performers like these around. “If you don’t listen to them now,” read one woman’s poster, ”they won’t listen to you later.”
Last weekend’s march was not the first evidence of super-upstarts, aggrieved youths totally on top of their game in a way that few grown-ups in political life are these days. Two months ago, more than 100 sports-prodigies-turned-public-survivors made national headlines as they delivered their stunning version of the same call—protect us, and listen to us. At the sentencing hearing of Dr. Larry Nassar, convicted of serially abusing athletes under his care, his victims powerfully yoked personal trauma to a systemic indictment. “Adult after adult, many in positions of authority, protected you,” said the former captain of the phenomenal U.S. Olympic gymnastics team, Aly Raisman, staring straight at Nassar. “How do you sleep at night?… You are the person [the USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee] had ‘take the lead on athlete care.’… I cringe to think your influence remains in the policies that are supposed to keep athletes safe.” [Continue reading…]