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Learning the Power of Protest, Confrontation and Collective Action, Where Will America’s Students Go from Here?

The kids are rising!

The gun lobby making this threat is suddenly running scared. Like that other top lobbying organization, the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, which was stood up and ignored by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in 2016, their bluff has been called. Once cowed politicians are realizing they can stand up to such lobbies and still retain or maybe even gain support among voters, it’s their days that are numbered.

Will the student movement, on this once sacred issue of gun rights, succeed? I’m guessing it will. It already has on some level. Perhaps they’ll get AR-15 style weapons banned and also large magazines for semi-automatic weapons. Maybe they’ll only get the guns themselves banned for sale to people under 21. But they’ll get something.

And that raises the crucial question: is this the beginning of something bigger? Sure this issue of stopping the sale of instruments of slaughter has tremendous resonance following such a horrific shooting, and thanks to the spontaneous rising of a nation of angry students — teens in high schools and 20-somethings in college — but are these once polite and agreeable students going to take their new found in-your-face, “up-against-the-wall” political activism and apply it to other issues?

Again, I am optimistic.

Right now, the focus is on guns, and it needs to stay there as these fired-up kids take their righteous anger next to Washington, hopefully to be joined by masses of fellow students from across the country. That will be something to see. But what then?

Back in 1966 when I was a junior in high school, there was a senior named Jim Steinman who came to school wearing a beard he’d grown over the summer. This being only 1966, the school authorities were horrified at his breach of decorum and informed him that he had to shave in order to attend school. Steinman decided he wouldn’t bend and went out to the sidewalk in front of the school, which was in the center of the town of Storrs, home of the University of Connecticut. There he began marching back and forth with a sign on a pole saying “No beard, no school!” or something like that.

Before long, a number of us less hirsute students, myself included, began marching with him in solidarity, first at lunch periods, which at the time wasn’t allowed, and later actually skipping study hours or even classes. After a few days of this, there was a mass of students marching, often joined by supportive passing college students. The protest, still unusual at that time in middle-class suburbia, caught the attention of the NY Times (imagine that happening today for such a trivial issue!). The next day the paper had a story and photo.

The school administration soon caved, and since then beards have been permitted at the E.O. Smith High School.

story | by Dr. Radut