Today’s students aren’t hippies — far from it. There is no flower power or free love movement.
However, high school and college students are socially active and have some big advantages over the original hippies who fought against the war in Vietnam and other threats to world peace. Their predecessors protested and marched. It took a lot of time and sacrifice. They had success.
I call today’s social activists “digital hippies.”
The war of ideas is being fought on their home turf. These students were born and raised on social media and they know how to build and reach an audience with a message.
Many people try to diminish their ideas and ideals because of their age, but a vast majority of these young people are already fed up with the foregone conclusions drawn by leaders owned by lobbyists and they aren’t taking no for an answer.
One of the best examples of the advantage enjoyed by the digital hippies is that they don’t have to leave home and camp out on the lawn of a government building to make a difference. They can do it across social media platforms from their phones.
One of the biggest movements to catch fire recently is the force behind the “never again” hashtag on Twitter and other platforms.
After the shooting that claimed 17 lives at a high school in Parkland, Florida, students began to push back against the system that allowed the shooter who killed their friends to legally amass an arsenal that was then unleashed on their school.
But that advantage fades when you consider what their movement is against.
Mass shootings are a tougher opponent for activists than a war in several ways.
The war in Vietnam didn’t have the National Rifle Association lobbying lawmakers to keep it going. After every mass shooting at a nightclub, concert or school, the NRA goes silent for a few days publicly while feverishly working to allay the panic over political pushback privately. Then the organization comes out fighting, somehow always becoming the victim of a liberal bogeyman.
The NRA has an advantage because even people who support the military and love the troops and what they do for America can also be against sending those troops needlessly into harm’s way. Decades of slippery slope arguments that any gun control is equitable to seizing guns and disarming America and the provably false narrative that the Second Amendment is sacrosanct in protecting every American’s right to own any gun and any amount of ammunition they choose, have caused mass shootings to become a rallying cry for those who fear they will somehow lose their right to protect themselves and their families.
The best example of this is President Donald Trump holding meetings in the days after the Parkland shooting where he advocated taking guns from people who are mentally ill and also raising the age limit to purchase guns from 18 to 21. He even mocked Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) for being too “scared of the NRA” to do something substantial about gun control, like raising the minimum age to buy rifles.
“A lot of people are afraid of that issue — raising the age for that weapon to 21,” Trump said.
Count the president among the profiles in courage who tuck their tails and change their policies because they are scared of the NRA.
Of course, the NRA spent more than $30 million on Trump’s own campaign and they will be a big player in the midterms trying to stop an apparent “blue wave” of electoral wins for Democrats across the country. After meeting with NRA officials, the president suddenly sees Toomey’s side of the argument and has backed off of every proposal to change anything about gun acquisition and ownership. If that pattern feels familiar, it should.
No matter how deadly the shootings have been, no real gun control measures have been passed. The president now says he wants to fund armed teachers in the classroom and ban bump stocks. The armed teacher bill is supported by the NRA. It will pass. I have doubts about bump stocks being banned. There are no legislators courageous enough to take that on.
It is far more difficult for today’s digital hippies to fight for common sense gun control than it was to fight the war in Vietnam. With the war, there were daily headlines with dead teens from communities all around the country. There were atrocities when soldiers weren’t being killed.
The headlines never left the front page.
Since Parkland, multiple staffers have left the White House, meetings are being planned with North Korea, scandals with porn stars and insider trading rumors in addition to more indictments and interviews in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation have all pushed the mass shooting inside newspapers and out of the digital news cycle all together.
That naturally distracts people from an issue that is at the top of the priority list after a shooting. However, after the funerals end and the headlines are knocked off the front page, the power behind the protest is harder to maintain.
It will be interesting to see if the digital hippies can win the fight on their home turf or if the power of the purse and apathy after enough water flows under the bridge can limit their effectiveness.
— Kent Bush is publisher of Shawnee (Oklahoma) News-Star and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.