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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!

It may seem like a petty thing, and I’m sure Jim had no idea his little private protest would have such an impact, but that protest and its success made, I believe, a huge impression on many of us at our school, and perhaps, thanks to the Times, even more far afield. We experienced the power of protest, resistance and especially collective action. It was a lesson I took to heart a year later as I approached 18 and had to register for the draft. Suddenly paying attention to the raging Vietnam War, I began researching about its horrors and realized that it was an atrocity my country was perpetrating, I resolved both to resist the draft, and to work actively in the movement to end that war. That’s another story, but suffice to say a year later I was on the mall of the Pentagon facing armed federal troops and ended up arrested and locked up with hundreds of other protesters in a federal prison for several days — the start of my radical education. And I trace it all back to Jim Steinman’s beard-ban protest.

In our day, as today, confrontational protests had already been underway for years by black activists demanding voting rights, an end to Jim Crow, and and end to segregated schools. It took the Vietnam War to wake the mostly white middle-class young people of the country to the need to take a stand. When we did wake up, though, and when we linked up with the civil rights movement and militant organiations like the Black Panthers, as well with returning veterans of the war, we all became in our millions a force for the government to reckon with.

I mention my own experience in high school because I’m sure that the students in Parkland, and students all over the country who are challenging school authorities by going on strike to support them, and who may be skipping school for days to travel to Washington or state capitals to demand action on sale of semi-automatic weapons, are also learning from their much more serious experience important lessons about the power of organized protest and collective action.

My hope is that they will not just learn those lessons but, being the idealistic young people that I know many of them to be, that they will apply them not just to this first awful but urgent struggle to make not just their schools but our whole country into a saner, safer place free of the almost routine slaughter of groups of people by semi-automatic gunfire, but also to other issues. Issues like our government’s unwillingness to confront raging climate change, combatting the institutionalized racism of our society, ending the militarization of our police and the mass incarceration of millions of poor and non-white men, women and even children, and resisting the mounting assault on women’s right to control their own bodies and health.

If they do this, I will have hope for this country and for the world. Already there are good signs. The mostly white suburban Parkland kids have now linked up with urban students in Chicago who have already been in the streets protesting gun violence, including gun violence by that city’s police.

The kids of America, now of all races and classes, are rising, as students did once before in the ‘60s, two generations ago, and if they keep rising — suburban white students linking arms with the young black, Latino, and other young people of color who are already in the streets protesting against police brutality, DACA deportions and the harassment of immigrants — nnothing will be able to stop them.

story | by Dr. Radut