“I do not believe that a democracy must necessarily become something other than a democracy to protect its national interests…We can prevent and publish the abuse of liberty by sabotage, disorder and violence without destroying liberty itself.”
– U.S. Attorney General (later Supreme Court Justice) Frank Murphy, 1939
“We know what we want. We want gun reform. We want common sense gun laws…The people in office have failed us…We’ve had enough of ‘thoughts and prayers.’ So this is to every lawmaker out there. No longer can you take money from the NRA. No longer can you fly under the radardoing whatever it is that you want to do. Because we are coming after you. We are coming after every single one of you and we are demanding that you take action and demanding that you make a change.”
– Delany Tarr, Parkland, FL Student/Survivor, 2/28/18
“Wake up people and see what’s happening!!!! We’ve never had this level of opposition before, not ever. It’s a campaign of lies and distortion, but it’s very well funded and they are playing on the sympathy factor of kids getting killed. If you really want to make a difference, then start recruiting NRA members every single day. The NRA better be 15 million strong soon, or this is only going to get worse.”
– NRA Board Member Charles Cotton, 2/27/18
“Young people have helped lead all our great movements. How inspiring to see it again in so many smart, fearless students standing up for their right to be safe; marching and organizing to remake the world as it should be. We’ve been waiting for you. And we’ve got your backs.”
– Former President Barack Obama, 2/22/18
“You can’t handle the truth.”
– Paul Pierce
On March 24, 2018, in Washington, D.C., there was a parade of hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who were disruptive, not of civil peace, but of tired, worn out ideas about who should be in charge of the experiment known as the American Republic. Their anger at a Status Quo in both political parties and among “captains of capitalism” that refused to address their needs approached that of Trump voters in 2016, but their targets and solutions were different. They didn’t attack other victims of violence and discrimination, and they didn’t expect one person or one political party to fix things. They would do it themselves: not out of arrogance, but from a combination of desperation and exasperation. Facebook and Twitter might be the new means, but the ends were traditional: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Merchants of death and their enablers are the targets.
There was much determination, but little despair in Washington or the hundreds of demonstrations in large and small towns around the nation and the world. There was much anger and angst, of course, but also plenty of courage and conviction. Yet, arguably, the most important factors in the “March For Our Lives” were things that were missing: the generation gap, white, Anglo-Saxon, male privilege, and their offspring: misogyny, racism and religious bigotry. Less is more.
It is my painful task as a historian to inform Tom Brokaw and other pundits who traffic in this misconception, that there is no such thing as a “greatest generation.” Maybe a “top ten,” but probably not. The so-called “greatest generation” of the Depression and World War II, for all its fortitude, was still the repository of anti-Semitism, anti- Catholicism, Jim Crow laws, contempt for women’s equality, and an anti-intellectualism which made it difficult for rational dissenters to point out the flaws in the American experiment in democracy which still needed fixing.
Each American generation in fact, beginning with that of the Founding Fathers and their forebears, has made their unique strides forward toward freedom and equity, as well as woeful steps backward towards despotism.
In 1999-2000 I had an experience in Chicago as a member of the inner circle of the Illinois Committee for Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ) for President that helped me understand why the Parkland, Florida students have, in their beef with 20th Century American leadership, much in common with Trump voters of 2016, and why “these kids” are different as well.
The Chair of the Chicago Committee was former U.S. Senator Adlai Stevenson III (D-IL), who was constantly frustrated by a Bradley headquarters in New Jersey that exhibited an East Coast myopia about conditions in the Midwest and Chicago that persists to this day. The committee also included Illinois Tax Commissioner, and later Governor, Pat Quinn, as well as Bill Lipinski, “Daley Machine” stalwart and U.S. Congressman from the 3rd District; not to be confused with his son, Dan Lipinski, the controversial current incumbent.
I was there because of my connections to the German American community in Cook County (800,000) and Illinois (1.7 Million) that I had made available to the (U.S. Senator, D-IL) Paul Simon campaign of 1984, Mayor Harold Washington campaign of 1987, and John Schmidt (D) gubernatorial campaign of 1998. Bill Bradley’s wife, the German-born Professor Ernestine Schlant, was a delightful personality and natural born campaigner, whom I introduced to the German American media in Chicago. She became an immediate hit over their ethnically targeted radio station.
As the German and Polish communities in Chicago are also connected by religion, neighborhoods, and workplace, a Polish professor friend of mine at Northeastern Illinois U. also introduced her to Polish American media where she also hit it off with her audience. Since the Bradley Presidential effort was suspended before it reached the Illinois Primary, we never got to see the results of our ethnic efforts on behalf of the one candidate in the 2000 Presidential election cycle, who had already proven, through his leadership in the Tax Reform Act of 1986, his willingness to tax, but not soak, the wealthy on behalf of the greater good for the greatest number of Americans.
Later in 2000, as the lackluster Democratic candidate to succeed Bill Clinton as President, Vice President Al Gore, exceeded the uncharismatic Bill Bradley, in his inability to inspire the electorate, I overheard a chance remark of a well connected downtown Chicago lawyer that enraged me. He was happy about Gore’s defeat of Bradley in the Democratic Primary cycle. This arrogant example of Status Quo smugness breathed a rhetorical sigh of relief. With the defeat of Bill Bradley’s challenge to the indifference of the well connected wing in the Democratic Party, there would be no danger to his “bottom line” in November, 2000 if the Democrat Al Gore won, or if George W. Bush, the candidate of an entire Republican Party indifferent to the unconnected, less wealthy and powerless among their fellow Americans, succeeded to the American Presidency.
Infuriating. Such indifference of all too many Democrats and virtually every informed Republican helped me understand the fury of the lone black member of Adlai Stevenson III’s Bill Bradley Committee, 27th Ward Alderman Ricky Hendon, from Chicago’s West Side.
Hendon’s anger was palpable and justifiable. He told us he could have chosen either candidate Gore or Bradley for all the good the Democratic Party was willing or able to do for black people in 2000. He chose Bradley out of anger for the way that Al Gore’s people had come into Chicago’s West and South Sides, telling black folks there how much they owed to Bill Clinton, which Hendon thought was B.S.
Around the same time I heard a talk at the Princeton Club of Chicago by the CEO of United Airlines who expressed sentiments very close to those of Alderman Hendon. He was appalled that Democrat President Bill Clinton had ended so much of New Deal welfare policy without creating a jobs policy to replace it; leaving the whole mess to the tender mercies of the private sector. This CEO took action and hired 2000 women from Chicago’s South and West Sides at the United Airlines Headquarters at O’Hare Field, one of the world’s busiest airports, easily accessible by light rail from anywhere in the city.
He was happy to report that these women surprised and challenged other UAL employees with the high quality of their work ethic. As he put it: “There wasn’t a single ‘welfare Cadillac person’ in the bunch.” It was sad, but not all that surprising to learn that, within a year or so, that farsighted man was no longer the CEO.
In placing representatives of Chicago’s West Side and other bullet-ridden black and brown communities in the U.S. on stage with them, the Parkland student leadership bridged a racial gap in 2018 that so frustrated Alderman Hendon and responsible corporate CEO’s in 1999.
The emergence of young women like Emma González as one unforgettable face of the movement, promises a closing of the gender gap. And the mature and focused response by Parkland student David Hogg to the slanders of FOX News’s Laura Ingraham has produced a rather healthy “hate gap.” The usual tactics of “attack and defame” that enemies of promise have traditionally used to divide the American people and profit from it, are not working very well on these kids. The times really “are a’changin.’”
Last but not least in the achievements of these remarkable young people since their sufferings of February 14, 2018 is their obliteration of the generation gap in the “March for Our Lives.” An average age of 48 or 49 years of age is the estimate of the million or so protesters in Washington, D.C. The leadership on stage were high school age and younger. Their parents’ and grandparents’ generations were in the audience, content to aid, abet, and to follow.
What a relief for “old fart progressives!” We don’t have to stop fighting for economic fairness and social justice, but we can be sure that when we drop the torch, it will land, still lit, into the hands of those competent, courageous, and willing enough to carry it.