The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Students Force the Issue of Violence onto the Stage

Mar 25, 2018

On Wednesday March 14, hundreds of thousands of students from middle schools, high schools and colleges across the country participated in demonstrations responding to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that left 17 dead.

Some of the demonstrations were carefully controlled by school administrations, and lasted just 17 minutes. Some lasted much longer. Some were quiet moments of silence; some were angry rallies demanding action, with chants of “Enough is Enough!” and “We call BS!” When some school officials forbade students from leaving school, many went ahead with their protests anyway, accepting whatever discipline their school decided to hand down. They insisted on being heard.

Activities included assemblies, marches, speeches, theatrical performances, discussions and debates. Different groups of students did different things, but all those who did, found ways to break out of the routine of a regular school day and insist that something needs to change.

And they captured the interest of a lot of working class people who also know that much needs to change. For them, too, enough is enough.

Where will all this activity go? Who knows?

Of course, school officials and other authorities know where they want it to go. They tried to contain or control the students’ anger and activity. Some told students that they should “stay engaged,” but offer only very narrowly prescribed activities for this engagement: Vote. Contact your elected officials. Wait. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The media, too, did its part to characterize the protests as very narrowly focused on gun control. Certainly the shooting in Parkland was the flashpoint; but that doesn’t at all mean that gun control was the only thing on these students’ minds.

The Republicans are in a bit of a bind confronting the protests; they rely on the NRA for votes. But the Democrats saw it as a win-win situation. They were happy to appear supportive of these protests – even rushing out of Congress to greet the protesting students in Washington, D.C. But this simply amounts to a variation on the same old message: “tell us your problems, vote for us, and wait for us to make changes for you.”

Maybe young people will accept this narrow limitation and pull back. But maybe not. They’ve already “called BS” on the Republican notion that nothing can be done; how long before they call BS on the Democratic notion that young people should just wait for the system to work for them?

Just because the authorities want thousands of angry young people to stay in their lanes, doesn’t mean that they have to stay there. Just because the protest starts with gun violence doesn’t mean it will stay on that issue only. There are many, many problems confronting young people, and they all stem from a society based on extracting profit at the expense of human need and dignity. These young people could very well say “Enough is enough” to much more than gun violence.

The students who acted have already gained a valuable experience. They’re making connections and seeing that they have common interests across the country. All these many thousands of students who organized actions across the country can feel, rightly, that they accomplished something. They organized collectively, and they have forced an issue onto the national stage that the adults in power have absolutely run away from up until now.

That is an experience these students will carry with them. Some of these students, of course, may slip back into the comfortable future niches already prepared for them. But most will end up joining the world of work. Like all those before them, they will be subjected to exploitation that creates rotten conditions of work and life. Maybe having learned to say “enough is enough,” they will say it again. This time from within the heart of the class that has the power to challenge the foundation of this rotten society, a society that cannot protect young people from violence.