The young people ARE winning

“The young people will win,” is Parkland activist David Hogg’s tagline.Image result for parkland, the young people will win He tweets it, starts speeches with it, and clearly believes it.

Audiences don’t always catch on right away, but Hogg is, above all else, persistent.

They’ll get it.

The emergent Resistance remaking American politics and life is, to an extraordinary degree, led by America’s youth. Donald Trump’s call for a return to an imagined past holds absolutely no resonance for them, perhaps because they know a little bit of history. But it’s not just the kids at the front of the protests; young people have taken leadership positions in every aspect of American politics.

Leah Greenberg and Ezra Levin, former Congressional staffers in their early thirties, founded Image result for leah greenberg ezra levinIndivisible, a call that launched hundreds of local groups across America that were fully engaged–and critical–in last week’s election. The groups share a commitment to political engagement, but each develops a distinct focus based on local issues and leaders.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, twenty-nine years old, won a seat Image result for alexandria ocasio-cortezin the House of Representatives, representing parts of Queens and the Bronx. She will be the youngest woman to take a seat in the House. She defeated a seemingly secure incumbent of her own party, advancing a vision of democratic socialism and promising to better represent a very diverse district.

Abby Finkenauer, Image result for Abby Finkenauerjust a few months older, will take her seat in Congress just after turning 30. She’ll represent Iowa’s first Congressional district, working intensively in Iowa politics for a decade. She proudly identifies as a first generation college student, listing the student loans she’s still paying off.

Just a little younger, journalist Lauren Duca really owns Twitter; she’s snarky, Image result for lauren ducapointed, and funny. In the astonishingly smart and political Teen Vogue, she’s been an astute critic of the Trump era, offering insight and encouragement to his challengers. When Washington became obsessed with civility, Duca was quick and to the point:

Let’s not waste one more drop of energy on the verbal Napalm that is the civility debate. If you’re more concerned about powerful adults getting yelled at than children being put in cages, you’re on the wrong side of history.

Duca is a star on cable tv, aggressive and good-humored, rattling smarmy and condescending Tucker Carlson in a segment that went viral almost immediately.

Since 2015, twenty-one young people, now ages 13-22, have been fighting a legal battle to force the government to act on climate change. In Juliana v. US, they claim that the government’s negligence is threatening their fundamental Constitutional rights. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled against the Justice Department’s call to dismiss the case, sending it back to the Ninth Circuit for further argument.

And, of course, there are the Parkland kids, who responded to the horrific mass shooting at their high school by organizing a campaign that started with gun control. They quickly expanded Image result for march for our livestheir vision to include police violence, and are now prepared to talk about college access and climate change, and, more generally, the reasonable concerns of America’s youth.

They’ve been demonstrating and lobbying, and organizing others to do the same. The kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have been quick to share their platform with a more diverse collection of young people, listening to other issues, and embracing a broad democratic politics.

All of these young people–and many many more–emphasize that they are in this struggle for the long haul. They are irreverent, but not cynical, consistently demonstrating a strong faith in America’s people and its future.


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The Parkland kids visit UCI

OK, it’s not strictly accurate to call them all kids anymore; some are in college now, and most are old enough to vote. More than that, in spite of the tragedy they’ve lived through–or maybe partly because of it–they’ve developed a strategy to promote social change effectively.

Since the large #MarchforOurLives demonstration in Washington last March, the Parkland activists have been on the road, connecting with local groups across the country and focusing intently on registering and mobilizing voters for the midterm election, now just days away.

This second trip to Irvine, right on campus at UCI–where I teach about social movements–was at least partly a response to a report on NBC that suggested students were uniformed and apathetic. [By the way, I showed the video to my students, who suggested the campus was bigger and more diverse than the odd report, and that “you can’t generalize from a convenience sample.” I now know that students are learning something in their social science courses.]

Organized on a tight timeline, the rally in the campus center was poorly publicized, but a few hundred people attended–not all college students. I spotted a few of the graduate students I work with; they turned up early. I don’t know if any of the undergrads in my social movements course showed up. I’m sure some of those attending finished with college long ago, and that others were still scratching away at high school.

The Parkland kids have done scores of these events, displaying a comfort with the crowd and a routine extremely well designed to engage and inspire. They brought snack food, tee-shirts, and buttons to share, and announced that buses would be available to take local voters to City Hall to post their ballots early.

The most familiar speakers, Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg, were visible, but they shared the stage with local activists and candidates for office, as well as a wonderful acapella group from UCI. (Forgotten names and crappy photos are my work!) Sage and Chika sang, and then showed their video, Safe.

Celebrities Chelsea Handler and Natalie Morales, who have both been working for Democratic candidates in Orange County, spoke, and came off as earnest, well-informed, and completely committed. 

It was a little interesting that Handler, who makes her living as a comedian, didn’t tell any jokes as she stressed the importance of voting, and flipping the House of Representatives.

Morales got a pretty good laugh, however, when she urged young people not to be intimidated by lack of knowledge, announcing that, “Everyone in this room is smarter than Donald Trump.”

Modest gun control measures were at the core of the political agenda, even as the Parkland kids were ready to connect with other issues about their futures–and the futures of other young people–including climate change, mass incarceration, immigration, and college costs. Policy details are on websites, but the main message from the podium was about engagement, repeated with urgency and optimism.

They talked a little about the horrible day early this year when a disturbed young man armed with an assault rifle killed 17 people at their school. They spent more time explaining how they responded by organizing a movement. Delaney Tarr described their effort as a way to turn anger into hope.

Good message.

They talked about facing people who made fun of them and threatened them, traveling non-stop and getting little sleep, and they talked about meeting and talking with all kinds of people across the United States.

Very short speeches and brief appearances by a few candidates for Congress and local office, including three teens running for city councils, were woven in with a little music and one brief chant. The overall tone was one of joyful and purposeful engagement, focused on Tuesday’s election, but oriented to promoting sustained engagement in the political process. We have to vote in EVERY election, Emma Gonzales said.  As in Washington, DC, all of the young activists appeared on the podium at the end.

They left the stage to rousing applause, but didn’t leave the room, waiting to talk with anyone who wanted to chat. Even after local organizers led young people to the buses, the Parkland kids stayed, talking policy or strategy, and posing for photos with anyone who wanted one. They understood that they’ve become celebrities themselves, and were ready to use their notoriety to build a movement and create new activists.

I was impressed with how interested they seemed in everyone who wanted to spend time with them.

If you want to build and sustain a powerful democratic movement, you have to learn to listen to people. Whether or not this was part of the curriculum at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, it’s something these activists learned well.

These young people are wonderful: smart, pragmatic, committed, and kind.

And all across the country, there are lots and lots of other young people just like them.

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The Takeaway takes on protest politics

I enjoyed talking with The Takeaway and Amy Walter about contemporary protest politics. Of course, they’ve offered a broader approach.

You can listen here:


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When testifying works: confronting Judge Kavanaugh

Maria Gallagher and Ana Maria Archila celebrated when Senator Jeff Flake (Arizona) forced his Republican colleagues to delay final consideration of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, pending completion of a very brief FBI investigation. Their elation is understandable and contagious: protesters rarely get such a quick and visible reaction to their efforts.

Ms. Gallagher and Ms. Archila were among many protesters filling the halls of the Senate, hoping to be heard. They followed Sen. Flake after he announced his intent to vote for the confirmation, and demanded that he listen–and look.

“Don’t look away from me,” Ms. Gallagher inveighed, “Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me, that you will let people like that go into the highest court of the land and tell everyone what they can do to their bodies.”

Flake looked up before the elevator doors closed.

Not long afterward, he announced that he would be uncomfortable supporting Kavanaugh’s nomination on the Senate floor until charges of sexual assault lodged by Christine Blasey Ford and others had been investigated.

The Republican leadership wanted to avoid the one week delay between the committee vote and consideration on the Senate floor, but realized that without some investigation the nomination would be doomed. It may still be: one week is plenty of time for new revelations, for other to tell their stories, and for senators to consult public opinion polls. The moment is open for a little longer.

Yelling at elected officials is hardly a surefire tactic. It makes people uncomfortable or angry. Successful politicians are adept at seeming to ignore protesters (People yell at Ted Cruz all the time–with no discernible effect!), and experienced activists are accustomed to neglect. The dramatic confrontation or brave individual act “works” only when it’s part of a much larger movement, in the context of many other events that are too easy to neglect.

Somehow, Flake broke from his colleagues, who were determined to make sure Blasey Ford had the opportunity to be heard and ignored. Flake listened. Explaining his decision later, he said that he had heard from many people, in personal testimony, on email, and on the phone, even walking around the Capitol. He also heard from friends, he said, who told their own stories of assault–stories they had never before shared.

Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, in the context of a much broader #MeToo movement, inspired many people to tell others their stories of surviving assault.  Gallagher and Archila themselves, committed to political action on other causes, first told their assault stories in response to this moment.

They are not alone. Social media are filled with people, mostly women, coming forward with their survivor stories, and at least some people are listening. In my gym locker room (off-campus, Orange County), where political conversation is infrequent and divided and, unlike Donald Trump, I’ve never heard stories about sex. But last week men were talking about the experiences they’ve heard from women they know. “Every woman our age has a story like this,” one man told me as he packed his bag. This is how the world changes.

In this context, Maria Gallagher and Ana Maria Archila, are brave and effective, but it’s not just them. They knew they were testifying in front of a choir of many others. As Archila tweets “So much love to all the 1000s of people who are changing the course of history with their protests, stories, & courage.”

Jeff Flake has been emphatic that he supports Judge Kavanaugh’s judicial philosophy, and that he expects to vote to confirm his appointment. He has, however, said he’s open to learning more. It’s impossible to credit just one event as the critical moment that influenced him.

And it is clear that Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher and Archila held open more than an elevator door.


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#MeToo Too, and the politics of the Kavanaugh nomination

It’s almost never good news when the word, “penis,” appears in a job interview.

But consideration of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination for a seat on the Supreme Court is about much more than this judge, his late adolescence, whether he dissembled about A Codepink demonstrator is removed by U.S. Capitol police during the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing Tuesday on Judge Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. (Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)his conduct toward young women, or his efforts to get other conservative judges on the bench.

Social movements work to bring greater engagement to events they don’t always choose, much less create. When successful, they increase attention to the issues they care about. #MeToo didn’t pick the Kavanaugh confirmation as a battlefront, but its supporters couldn’t ignore it. And they weren’t alone: Christian conservatives now also see salvaging Kavanaugh’s candidacy as key to their larger efforts.

#MeToo made it a little less awful and scary for Christine Blasey Ford to go public with her story, and she’s paid a price for it already. But Professor Blasey Ford’s story–and particularly the attacks on her it generated–encouraged others to tell their own chilling tales of sexual assault–on Twitter, television, and around kitchen tables. #MeToo encouraged dogged reporters like Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow to pursue whiffs of appalling behavior gleaned from odd emails, eventually convincing Deborah Ramirez to tell her story as well, even as she feared the personal costs.

To be sure,  a much larger number of women with far more extensive corroboration told stories about candidate Donald Trump–and he was elected anyway. But senators must cast their votes in public, and then face the voters, and people are watching.

Long before any of the allegations about young Kavanaugh were public, many Democrats were determined to oppose his nomination because of his political past, his judicial Over 200 protesters arrested during Kavanaugh hearingsdecisions, and the importance of this swing seat on the court. They didn’t need sexual charges to motivate their attack, but once the charges were public, they were determined to use them. Allegations of sexual assault invite public attention in  a way that evasive answers about stare decisis won’t. Blasey Ford’s story, along with Ramirez’s–and who knows who and what else’s tale–reopen Judge Kavanaugh’s candidacy, and expand the scope of the questions he will have to face.

Given what’s now in public, a senator who takes “advise and consent” seriously should ask not only about the specific events detailed, but also young Brett Kavanaugh’s history with alcohol and with women. Those who look at Kavanaugh’s professional history investigating officials charged with sexual misconduct will find his memo to Kenneth Starr, outlining questions for President Bill Clinton, unavoidable. Truth: the language and detail is so explicit and detailed that I clutch when considering a copy and paste.  (You can look for yourself here.)

Activists are doing far more to make it hard for senators to ignore them and their issues. Some are calling their senators–or someone else’s. Others are giving money–or promising to give money–to candidates who support their positions. Reporters are looking at how Yale law professors think they can help star women students get prestigious clerkships with an appellate judge. (Note: It includes reviewing photos of potential interview outfits.)

And people are protesting!

The protests started before almost any of us knew about claims of sexual assault, and those who turned out were well-prepared to believe them, even as Kavanaugh’s supporters were rushing to dismiss any claims that might slow confirmation. The search for truth and the seating of a new justice should take more work.

Protesters arrested outside Susan Collins’s senate office.

Protest polarizes, and most of us–and certainly most of the senators–have already committed to their side. Thus far, more information feeds the intensity of concern, and senators are digging in on their positions. Judge Kavanaugh’s fate will be determined by a few senators able to raise their heads and look at new information and changing politics. Some may have be able to reconsider their concerns about his jurisprudence on reproductive rights or tribal self-determination. Still others may see a chance to get a candidate for the seat they preferred in the first place (say, Amy Coney Barrett, who excelled academically outside the Ivy League, and is younger and more overtly religious). When two or three senators falter, Senator McConnell and others will orchestrate a way for Kavanaugh to self-righteously withdraw from consideration.

But however this vacancy is filled, the larger struggle is represents will continue. At minimum, presidential vetting of judges will include questions about sexual assault–and youthful drinking–that, I bet, never came up before. But more is possible: if young men worried about how their behavior at parties might compromise their ambitions decades later….well, would that be a bad thing?



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#MeToo, Brett Kavanaugh, and the influence of social movements

Teenagers do stupid things, particularly under the influence of alcohol; for boys, sometimes those stupid things are criminal or violent. Often, offenses are unreported, unprosecuted, or otherwise concealed, and teens get second, third, and sixth chances to grow up. Affluent white kids from “good” families (Brett Kavanaugh’s mom was a judge!) are far more likely to get those extra chances than less advantaged children. I suspect most go on to live better lives, regretting or forgetting youthful mistakes–no matter how awful.

#MeToo has changed the rules about what can be forgotten.

Christine Blasey Ford’s story about being assaulted by drunken teenage boys at a house party is disturbingly believable. In short order, 200 alumnae of her high school signed a letter attesting to the familiarity of a distorted social milieu in which such sexual assaults are part of the atmosphere. Yuck.

#MeToo made it a little bit easier for women to tell their stories, sometimes publicly, but also to each other. It also made many men rifle through their own memories, hoping not to find such stories, and seeking absolution. The world IS changing.

Professor Ford’s willingness to tell her story, first to her family and her therapist, and then to a larger public, reflects the changes in progress. She found immediate amplification and support from an awakened movement against sexual violence. The Senate’s response is also telling, particularly in contrast with the body’s response to allegations against Clarence Thomas in 1991:

When Anita Hill offered testimony of repeated sexual harassment from an uninebriated adult supervisor, the Senate Judiciary Committee looked for ways to contain it. CommitteeFILE - University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill is sworn in, in the Caucus Room before testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, in this Oct. 11, 1991 file photo. Virginia Thomas said in a statement Tuesday Oct. 19, 2010 that she was "extending an olive branch" to Hill, now a Brandeis University professor, in a voicemail message left over the weekend asking Anita Hill to apologize for accusing the justice of sexually harassing her. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson, File) Chair Joe Biden refused to allow corroborating witnesses to testify.* Republican senators Arlen Specter and Alan Simpson ridiculed Ms. Hill, subjecting her to the same sorts of prosecutorial attacks that women who reported sexual assaults typically faced—but in front of a national television audience. Judge Thomas grandstanded in response, comparing the accusations to lynching–and the Senators sat and listened to him.

Justice Thomas has sat on the Supreme Court for more than a quarter-century.

Should she testify before the committee, it’s hard to imagine that Prof. Ford will endure a similar cross-examination. No senator with any thought of ever facing voters again would be willing to do a full Specter.

I don’t expect Judge Kavanaugh to acknowledge that even he was a stupid, drunken, teen boy who did things he now regrets, and that he has, in fact, repented and tried to do better–although this is probably the truth.

I predict a well-prepared Judge Kavanaugh will decry the assault Ford recounts, even as he denies any part of it. He will announce his respect for women, remind the audience that he is the father of daughters, the coach of a girls’ basketball team, and the employer of many women as law clerks. This is, by the way, far more than Clarence Thomas did.

#MeToo has won this rhetorical battle already.

Academic note: people who study social movements have a hard time making sense of this kind of social movement impact. There is no change in law that can be directly traced to the influence of this newest iteration of a movement against sexual violence. Civility in Senate hearings is hard to code, and Kavanaugh may still end up on the Supreme Court. And it’s hard to think of any way to track how many boys will be a little more restrained at parties because they fear some punishment or accountability somewhere in the future.


* Much, much later, former Vice President Biden revisited and regretted the way the Thomas hearings that he managed turned out, although he didn’t contact Hill directly, nor did he come close to apologizing.

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Civility and its discontents

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House Press Secretary, probably made the right call in leaving the Red Hen restaurant during the appetizer course. When the owner of a restaurant tells you that the staff doesn’t want to feed you–regardless of their reasons–you probably don’t want to sample their offerings.

The chef called owner Stephanie Wilkinson at home when the Sanders party entered the restaurant. Upon arriving, she asked the staff how they felt about serving these guests. The staff said they were offended by Sanders’s vigorous defense of the Trump administration’s policies on gays and on immigrants. Wilkinson asked Sanders to leave and comped the cheese plate on the table.

Department of Homeland Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was deeper into her dinner at a Mexican restaurant in DC when demonstrators showed up to chant “Shame, Shame.”

At least some in the #Resistance are adopting a zero tolerance approach to high level officials: people who defend the separation of families don’t get to dine in peace publicly; violations of basic morality are not the same as differences on matters of policy.

We know why activists who disrupt the private lives of public figures take a lot of flack. Democracies are supposed to tolerate differences of opinion, and Sanders and Nielsen, for example, were just doing their jobs. We understand why supporters of Trump’s policies attacked the disruption of civility, and aren’t really surprised that even Trump critics have joined in condemning this kind of dinner theater (See Rep. Elijah Cummings, e.g.). There are better ways, they say, to make your political points–although critics rarely suggest alternatives beyond voting.

636654372411132914-red-hen1.jpgThe dinner disruptions reflect activists’ search for ways to confront the moral horrors they see visibly, and it’s not pretty. In general, we don’t want businesses to deny service to people because of their political views–or, for that matter, their race, religion, or sexual orientation. And we hope that diners at the next table can enjoy their burritos with polite conversation. At the same time, it’s hard to see these petty offenses as remotely comparable to seizing the children of migrants  who seek sanctuary.

Effective protest polarizes. It’s usually unpopular.

Image result for anti-abortion protest planned parenthoodCritics pull out sanitized versions of Gandhi or Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King, demanding that activists find ways to express themselves that are easier to ignore. We forget that the canonized activist heroes of the past were all far less popular than, say, the philanthropist football player Colin Kaepernick is today. The Freedom Riders who traveled on interstate buses were far more disruptive than last week’s restaurant protesters. The same is true of the anti-abortion protesters who scream at women walking into Planned Parenthood clinics. The hero is willing to risk being a pariah.

Although civility could be a consistent value, it’s more frequently an excuse to castigate and dismiss political opponents, and it’s easy to catch more than a whiff of hypocrisy; politicians often defend the principled disruption of those they agree with.

Disrupting a dinner is then less a question of ethics than of efficacy, and it’s a tough question. Those who protested Sarah Sanders and Kirstjen Nielsen want to focus on the horror and inhumanity of the Trump administration’s policies on immigration, not table manners. Their decidedly uncivil protests succeeded to the extent they drew attention to those policies. If, however, Trump supporters can avoid defending holding children hostage by attacking the manners of their opponents, it’s time to try something else.

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