The big "March for Our Lives" pro-gun-control demonstrations last weekend are being touted as the defining moment of the late Millennial generation. Much as I like to think ill of Millennials, second only to thinking ill of the Baby Boomers, such projections are unlikely to be true because, as Dave Marcus points out, they weren't true of the Boomers, who were not defined by the hippies and went on to vote for Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. "Neither of these generations, and in fact no generation at all, is defined by...media-hyped paradigms of what they think and do." That's especially true when we discover more confirmation that this spontaneous student activism isn't so spontaneous, after all.
First of all, the numbers are in for the weekend's big pro-gun-control rallies, and the crowd size is estimated at 200,000. That's comparable to what we had in DC for the big Tea Party rally in September of 2009. It's probably smaller than the nationwide Tea Party demonstrations in April of 2009. Perhaps a more direct comparison would be to the almost identically named "March for Life," an annual anti-abortion rally in DC that peaked at 650,000 people a few years back and regularly brings in protesters in the hundreds of thousands. And this is without the benefit of weeks of free publicity provided by the national media.
But these protests had the benefit of more than just free media. Under a carefully neutral title, "In Gun Control Marches, Students Led but Adults Provided Key Resources," the New York Times basically admits that the marches are astroturf--artificial grassroots.
Although the events, which together drew hundreds of thousands of demonstrators across the country, were inspired and often led by students, many protests simultaneously benefited from groups with more financial resources and organizational skills than the teenagers had on their own....
Everytown for Gun Safety, which was founded and financed by Michael R. Bloomberg, the billionaire and former New York mayor, proudly declared that it had doled out more than $1 million in grants to local organizers. A nonprofit led by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, arranged for more than 200 people from the Parkland area to attend Saturday's march in Washington, and said it had worked with the owner of the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft, to use the NFL franchise's plane to bring some people to the capital....
"Our mission was to give them the biggest megaphone possible," Shannon Watts, the founder of an Everytown-affiliated group, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said on Sunday.
There's a lot more of this sort of thing in the report, but it's all summed up in this amazing statement:
"The kids did everything," said Jenn Hoadley, 36, who helped students organize a march in Anchorage. "All I did was say, 'You want a stage? Cool. I'll find one for you. You need a sound system? Cool. I'll find one for you. You want to march in the park? I do paperwork to help you get that done.' They planned it all, and they should be given credit for that."
"The kids did everything" ends up meaning that they expressed their preferences and adults swarmed in to do all the actual work. Plus, in the words of another local student "organizer," the adults "were paying for everything." As we usually do. Oh, and all the angry rhetoric about politicians being bought and paid for by the NRA? That was spoonfed to them, too, by a Parkland teacher whose "government" class apparently spent a lot of time railing against "special interests" and not much time on the Constitution.
I don't blame the kids for this, not primarily. They are responding to a perfect storm of two big trends among the older generation. The first trend is the rise of protest culture, in which your entire personal and political identity are supposed to be tied up in which protests you attend. Combine that with helicopter parenting, in which parents are so eager for their kids to enjoy success and a wide range of experiences that they hover over the kids and hold their hands the entire way. I guess we could call this helicopter protesting.
This isn't new. It's a phenomenon I observed during campus protests a few years back, when the president of Claremont McKenna college announced "I'm holding a sit-in in my office." As I wrote, "Today’s students are so coddled that they no longer have to make the effort to take over university buildings. Their elders will take it over for them. It’s like a weird kind of helicopter parenting: 'Here, let me rebel for you, sweetheart.'" Similarly, one education reformer observed the irony of the recent anti-gun school walkouts—"protests" that were effectively sponsored by the school's own administration. "If students have permission to walk out, it’s no longer student activism at all. It’s a field trip."
I have no doubt that the some of the kids from Parkland and elsewhere will do amazing things some day. Some of them already have, but they're not here to talk about it. The rest will go on to accomplish much in their lives, eventually. But they will start to do that only after they emerge from under the protective wings and ideological influence of their teachers and parents and decide what they think on their own. Then maybe some of them will dare to launch protests without the permission and support of their elders.