I’ve been blown away by the instant move toward activism and organizing by the Florida shooting survivors. Me, I’d probably be a blubbering wreck curled up in the corner of my bedroom. Their instance move toward politicizing their experience and doing everything they can to stop it from happening again is incredibly welcome, a breath of fresh air that reminds us that small groups of people can make a great difference. I mean, according to the media, the kidz do nothing but eat avocado toast, complain about the authenticity of the food in the Oberlin cafeteria, and stare into their phones. It’s almost as if young people are actually doing amazing things that the rest of us can learn from. To force the NRA on its heels and embarrass their bought politicians could lead to real change.
Dahlia Lithwick notes some of the reasons they have been particularly effective and the lessons for us in dealing with present terribleness. Some of these could be really useful for the LGM community.
1. Give Donald Trump Precisely 5 Percent of Your Mental Energy
These students aren’t wasting their time and energy on the president. Outside a handful of tweets on the day of the shootings, and a line or two in speeches and television appearances, the student protesters are modeling how to essentially ignore Donald Trump. They have no interest in talking to him or even about him. They have internalized the lesson that he is a symptom of the problem but unworthy of credit or blame. I suspect that if the rest of us ignored the president half as ably as they have, we’d all have vastly more emotional energy for the fights that really do matter.
Correct. Donald Trump is a small part of the problem. Our constant mental energy spent on the latest Trump tweet is really a distraction from fighting the problem. The problem is not Donald Trump. It is the Republican Party.
2. Don’t Waste Time Fighting People Who Don’t Share Your Values and Goals
The Stoneman Douglas students don’t seem to be wasting their time debating or negotiating with the gun lovers on the other side. They are simply working to get gun legislation passed, to raise awareness, and to energize other young people. As someone who has devoted the greater part of the past year to an intramural media debate about whether to give up completely on the other side or to strive to change hearts and minds, it’s refreshing to see that this doesn’t really matter. Stoneman Douglas can’t be bothered with David Brooks. Endless progressive debate over engagement with opponents or the lack thereof and the complex moral nuance of allyship is a luxury these kids cannot afford and aren’t bothered by. Good for them. They have work to do. If Wednesday night’s CNN town hall proved anything, it was that the National Rifle Association and GOP senators literally have no answers for them. They aren’t wasting time on gentle persuasion. They know when they are being lied to.
Yes! This goes back to my post from awhile ago where I said dialogue with right-wingers was a complete waste of your time. Evil people just have to be defeated. You won’t convince them and it’s not worth trying. You will spend lots of time and energy making no progress if you do this. There are millions of people out there who are not decided about the world and you can convince them, but not through dialogue. You convince them through action, through defeating your opponents, through showing leadership, through setting the conversation. All of this is what the Stoneman Douglas students are doing. Just go work on the issues you care about and let the chips fall where they may.
And let’s be honest–talking about the latest inanity from David Brooks is also a huge waste of our time. I slip on this somewhat too, when I write about the horribleness of the New York Times op-ed page. But none of these people actually matter in terms of making change. A Times op-ed page without Brooks or whatever troll James Bennet hires would be less annoying, but it wouldn’t make defeating right-wingers any easier. It might be fun to make fun of these people, but it doesn’t actually matter.
Admittedly, without talking about Trump or David Brooks, we wouldn’t have 400 comment threads since that’s what the readership seems to want. But if LGM readers want to be leaders in the fight to change, taking Lithwick’s advice and following the model of the Stoneman Douglas students would be a lot more valuable.