For the better part of two years, I've been engaged in a good-natured argument with the 60-something father of a friend over whether it's right to trust anyone over 30. My friend's dad is a whip-smart fiery Irishman who spent decades as a math teacher in rural North Idaho and now spends his retirement years fishing, reading, sailing and fuming about the news from his home at the south end of Lake Pend Oreille. He caucused for the Democrats in 2016 and remains a diehard Bernie Sanders supporter. His resigned view of the under-30 crowd is as apathetic, screen-addicted dullards. My end of the argument — carried out over Facebook, which I'm told only old people use now — has been to defend the youngsters against his jabs, which are frequently delivered with the fervor of his days as '60s-era rabble-rouser. I have to admit, as I've slouched ever-nearer to 40, those defenses have become increasingly anemic.
Following the recent March for Our Lives and March for Our Rights coverage, I have the nebulous sense that our interminable culture wars are at or nearing an inflection point. Fitting — and I wonder if my friend's dad would agree with me — that this should happen 50 years after the annus horribilis of 1968. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4 that year, touching off the Resurrection City protest that brought thousands to the National Mall. Half a century later, the kids are in the streets again, driven there by outrage over the hundreds of deaths that have occurred with numbing frequency in school shootings over the past decade.
Resurrection City was about King but it was also about the rights of poor people. It was about the escalating Vietnam War, pollution, political corruption and corporate greed. Likewise, the March for Our Lives is about more than guns. According to a Feb. 24 report from NPR, polling shows 58 percent of Americans age 18-29 favor stricter gun laws. That figure is only 1 percentage point higher than the national average.
That so-called millennials are pretty much in line with their elders on gun control is inconvenient for the gun lobby, which very much wants to turn March for Our Lives into an assault on the Second Amendment. (The irony of assertions that the March for Our Lives protesters are taking orders from a shady cabal of left-wing organizers is palpable when one considers the March for Our Rights folks are in the streets parroting the talking points of the National Rifle Association. Then again, I suppose irony is the preserve of snowflakes.)
A March 22 op-ed in the Washington Post puts a fine point on the wider significance of the March for Our Lives movement. While young people might hold similar views to their parents and grandparents on gun rights, they lean significantly further left on just about every other socioeconomic and environmental issue. Guns and gun violence may be the entree to a wider social and political reordering.
"Millennials have the potential to move the United States beyond the angry stalemate that has seen an aging political class drive policy to the right while a youth-centric popular and commercial culture pushes the rest of society to the left," writes Paul Taylor in the Post. "If millennials start voting at the same rate as older generations, they'll align policy with zeitgeist."
Of course, the idea that if young people vote they can change the nation is nothing new. However, by making guns the third rail of American politics, the NRA and its legion of pocketed politicians may well have planted the seeds of their own demise. That is, if we can trust anyone under 30. ♦
Zach Hagadone is a former co-publisher/owner of the Sandpoint Reader, former editor of Boise Weekly and current grad student at Washington State University.