And the Children Shall Lead Us
At 8:18 p.m. on May 4, 1970, just hours after Ohio National Guardsmen killed four students and wounded nine others during an anti-war rally at Kent State University, R.J. Casey of Pittsburgh sent this telegram to the mayor of Kent:
“As (the) father of a Kent State student as a graduate of Kent State University and as an American I demand immediate action against the Hitler youth who are trying to destroy our universities and plunge America into anarchy.” The next day, at 8:40 a.m., Mr. and Mrs. David DeClue of St. Louis sent this telegram to the mayor:
“Horrah for the National Guard nothing else worked this might.”
That same day, the mayor received this handwritten letter from Mrs. Frank M. John Bellaire of Texas:
“Thank God that someone is thinking about and doing something to bring (the) United States back to a decent place to live, even one little place like Kent. Maybe the rest of the university towns will also get some guts and help.”
These and dozens more letters like them are part of the university’s “Kent State Shootings” digital archive. Reading them this week, in the wake of the shootings that killed 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, is a potent reminder of what too often happens in this country when generations collide.
There’s always been a certain percentage of Americans who don’t age well. Their regrets for their own wasted youth or their misspent lives harden them and make them all-too-eager to see the next generation fail. The only thing that’s changed for people like that is the forum for their rage.
Students in Parkland and around the country are now demanding gun legislation reform, publicly and with an emerging eloquence that renders many of us tearful witnesses. They are planning the “March for Our Lives” on March 24 in Washington, and the national momentum for this is reportedly growing. Students across the country are planning their own walkouts to protest this shameful inaction of America’s adults to protect our children.
In response to their blooming activism, too many supposed adults — fueled by right-wing media and pundits — are mocking these young people.
Particularly egregious are claims that these outspoken teenage survivors of the most recent massacre are FBI plants and Democratic pawns or, worse, “crisis actors” who flit from tragedy to tragedy to fire up opposition to guns. These attempts to rob these children of their authority are as baseless as they are despicable. This may explain why Donald Trump Jr. “liked” two tweets attacking one of the most outspoken survivors, 17-year-old David Hogg.
It’s easy to see why the most hateful among us are targeting this young man. He is articulate and photogenic — and he knows his mind. And so there he was, with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Tuesday night, defending himself against these false accusations.
“I’m not a crisis actor,” he said. “I’m someone who had to witness this and live through this, and I continue to be having to do that.”
Think about this. A week ago, this teenager was huddled in a dark closet with his classmates as a former student walked through the halls with an AR-15 and killed 17 people and injured more than a dozen others. Less than a week had passed, and he was on national television insisting that he was nobody’s pawn.
Earlier that day, former Rep. Jack Kingston, a regular CNN commentator, asked on-air, “Do we really think — and I say this sincerely — do we really think 17-year-olds on their own are going to plan a nationwide rally?”
Yes, many of us do think they can succeed where we have failed, but it doesn’t matter what we think. The impatience we may have with these young people is no match for their impatience with us. They are sick of our hypocrisy. Our lethargy. Our unwillingness to hold NRA-funded elected officials accountable for failing to protect our children.
Will they stumble? Sure. All movements do. Don’t mistake missteps for surrender. They’re young. Remember those days? Poking the bear, I know.
If you are even tempted to think they’ll run out of steam, I suggest you get off your couch and out of those chatrooms and go meet some of the young people of this country.
Rush to do this. It’s only a matter of time before they leave you behind.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate.