MUHAMMAD: Youth Brigade Has Seized the Baton

Students participating in the protest of gun violence in schools display their signs in the March for Our Lives rally in D.C. on March 24. (DR Barnes/The Washington Informer)

I often wondered what the new hip-hop would be like, and I got a glimpse at the massive “March For Our Lives” expressions here in the District and in hundreds of cities around the world March 24.

On short order (after a Feb. 14 massacre), a cadre of high school students and younger from Parkland, Florida, and all over the country, really young folks organized and mobilized themselves to address the insanity of easy access to dangerous guns at their schools.

It was a political hot potato, but this new, post-millennial generation is present and accounted for. Ready for duty, sir!

“Welcome to the revolution,” said Parkland student organizer Cameron Kasky in a speech aimed at timid members of Congress. “We are the change. … Represent us or get out.”

What angry, revved-up young voters have in their favor is that their numbers are increasing, while older, more hide-bound voters are decreasing. If they can maintain their focus and enthusiasm when there is no heart-wrenching tragedy dominating the national headlines, their force will be felt at the 2018 ballot box.

Can the angry, coming-of-age teen voter affect the U.S. political scale this year the way the Angry White Male voter did for Donald J. Trump?

What impressed me about the coming-of-age demonstration in Washington was the sheer numbers. Amazing, 600,000 to 800,000 mostly young people in attendance; the brilliant things so many of these young people had to say and their poise saying those brilliant things — it’s as though they were born for this moment.

These leaders were randomly chosen, self-chosen, which suggests there are many others like them in other schools all over the country. There are forces, however, swirling around these young folks who are not to be trusted. Their aim is to co-opt the righteous energy of this new movement and render it inert. Trust me.

When I was the age of some of these alert leaders today, I was AWOL. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the great “I Have A Dream” speech, and I must have been sleeping in Los Angeles, because I have absolutely no recollection of a 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Justice.

Five years later, with the assassination of King, opposition to the Vietnam War and persistent repetitions of racist police violence, some of us dared to call our resistance activities “revolutionary,” though it was far from it. But the rhetoric was there.

One of our concerns (when we pondered alliances with white radicals, then known as hippies) was that at some future moment our White allies would abandon the cause, shave off their hippie beards and sign on with their dads on Wall Street. Sure enough, on multiple occasions, the White guys abandoned radical politics for modest gains.

Will this group of young people be true to their cause, not drinking the Kool-Aid about the contradictions between what’s said about this country and what it really is?

Another encouraging sign is that these people did not ask for permission from the older generations. These folks just walked up and took the baton out of the hands of the older folks in charge. Ignore us at your own peril, the march organizers declared, realizing that with each election cycle, more of today’s 15- and 16-year-olds — down to the wise and sophisticated 11-year-olds and younger — who addressed the D.C. rally will soon be eligible to vote.

The question is, will these post-millennials still be motivated if there are no additional horrific schoolyard shootings to provoke tears and sympathy?

I’m a “true believer.” I believe this new movement, which swept among the young like wildfire, will endure among them, producing profound changes in this country, certainly as profound as those wrought by the civil rights, anti-Vietnam War generation.

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About Askia Muhammad 106 Articles
WPFW News Director Askia Muhammad is also a poet, and a photojournalist. He is Senior Editor for The Final Call newspaper and he writes a weekly column in The Washington Informer.

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