A child shall lead them

2/22/2018, 9:19 p.m.

We are transfixed by the passion and activism of the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla. 

They refuse to be cowed by the bloody Valentine’s Day massacre at their high school in which a former student armed with an AR-15 military-style rifle killed 17 people and wounded the bodies and souls of hundreds of others. 

Instead, they are speaking out and demanding tougher gun laws in America so that students won’t have to be afraid to walk into schools every day worried whether someone with a weapon will open fire.

They are angered by local police and FBI missing and mishandling warnings about the 19-year-old perpetrator, Nikolas Cruz, and frustrated by the inaction of state and federal politicians.

So between the funerals for classmates and teachers, they are demonstrating outside the school and at the Florida statehouse. Through the power of social media, they have sparked protests by students at schools across the nation and kindled a nationwide student walkout on March 14. On March 24, they are planning “March for Our Lives” in Washington, all calling for tougher gun laws.

Their actions have attracted the backing of such big names as Oprah Winfrey, director Steven Spielberg and actor George Clooney. On Monday, and again on Wednesday, Washington high school students staged a lie-in outside the White House fence.

“If anything, we’re not going to let the 17 bullets we just took take us down,” Douglas High junior Cameron Kasky told the media on Sunday. “If anything, we’re going to keep running, and we’re going to lead the rest of the nation behind us.” 

Some people and politicians are quick to dismiss the efforts of the young people as a flash in the pan, noting that the flurry of effort for stricter gun laws following the horrific mass shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007, Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut in 2012 and at the country music concert in Las Vegas last October had no tangible results.

But while lawmakers in Congress and statehouses across the country, including Virginia, may be tone deaf, or bought and sold by the political donations of the National Rifle Association, the clear, compelling and impassioned arguments by the Florida students cannot be ignored. Time and again, this nation has witnessed the power of young people to effect change even when adults and old people cannot. 

Consider this:

• On April 23, 1951, 16-year-old Barbara Johns led a student walkout at Moton High School in Prince Edward County to protest the deplorable, substandard conditions at the racially segregated public school. That student strike against separate and unequal education led to the Virginia lawsuit that became part of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down racially segregated public schools.

• On Feb. 1, 1960, four students from North Carolina A&T College sat down at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., and asked to be served, challenging the store’s “whites-only” policy. Despite being hit, spit on and doused with ketchup, mustard, sugar and other condiments, the students, whose numbers grew, continued the sit-ins for six months until the store finally changed its policy. By June 1960, sit-ins and demonstrations led by students at 49 other colleges had erupted at segregated lunch counters and department store restaurants in 39 Southern cities, including Richmond. The students’ efforts were successful in overturning racist policies.