Saturday approximately 800,000 mostly young people gathered in Washington, D.C. to demand sensible gun regulations in America. Millions of others held similar demonstrations in cities across America and around the world. The catalyst of this movement is the Valentine’s Day mass murder in a Florida high school. The problem is much deeper. To date the movement has had a modest positive impact and has the potential to be the equal of the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements. I don’t question its potential; I primarily worry about its sustainability.
My first concern is whether the movement will survive the summer. While all the high school students are in school and in close contact at least five days a week they are doing a fantastic job of keeping each other focused. What happens when they are not in such close contact after school lets out? This will be a test. Will social media (something the movements of the ‘60’s didn’t have) be the glue that holds this movement together? The potential upside is that the high school seniors who become college freshmen in the fall can actually grow the movement by involving college students.
Will young people vote in a high enough percentage in November to effect change? I am very happy to see that most demonstrations are including a registration element. A localized voter education element is necessary. Many state and local Boards of Elections (in clear violation of federal law upheld by the Supreme Court) make it difficult for college students to vote. These young voters need also to know friend from foe. Party labels will only turn them off; this is an issue oriented movement. (Note to voter registration workers: just get these young people registered and forget about what Party affiliation they choose. It’s not how you register; it’s how you vote.)
Along those lines a major concern I have is whether the Democratic Party will be able to harness this energy. If they try to do things within the Party framework they will alienate many of these young people. Democrats, (who will be the primary political beneficiaries of this movement), need to align themselves with these young people; not try to take the movement over or “muscle out” their leaders. If the energy can be harnessed, respected and sustained the young people can be an army of “ground troop worker bees”. The secret to success is to let them do it under their own leadership and banner. Guide and aid them; don’t dictate to them or try to co-opt them. Executed properly not only will the young people personally provide a lot of votes; they will get a lot of motivatables predisposed to voting Democratic to the polls. Remember in the end all close elections come down to turnout and recent history shows us that the Democrats can make more races competitive in 2018 than in recent years.
Part of the problem with getting sensible gun regulations enacted is the passion gap. The “shall not be infringed” crowd is primarily composed of single issue voters. A “B” or better NRA rating is a passport to their vote regardless of how bad your voting record is otherwise. These young people are the antithesis of that. They have the potential of making a high NRA rating and/or accepting the NRA’s financial backing political poison. In addition to rejecting Party labels (any Party labels) they are willing to base their vote on this single issue. That is not the way the Democratic party has operated for decades but it is a way to win races and achieve goals; foremost among them some sensible gun regulations. If the Democrats want to be successful at the ballot box in 2018 and beyond they are going to have to be willing to “do business” just a tad differently. America is actually much better off if people are voting for a Democratic candidate because of their views on issues rather than simply because they have a D after their name.
Young people are more philosophically pure than their older adult counterparts. The system hasn’t broken them down yet. They don’t feel as much of a need to conform. Young people ended the Vietnam War. Young people defeated Jim Crow and overt discrimination. Given the chance and worked with properly they have a shot a significantly harnessing America’s gun problem. My only question is whether the movement is sustainable. As long as their parents’ and grandparents’ generations don’t mess it up time will tell.
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