Repression/Concession Digression and Hong Kong

Social protest movements are messy collections of people and groups with different ideas about what they want and how to get it. They tend to do best when they can maintain some kind of unified presence in relation to authorities without smoothing out or resolving all of their own internal conflicts. It’s when the people who are mostly okay with institutional routes to change find common cause with people who are ready to go out in the streets that movements become powerful.

Successful movements are kind of like umbrellas…particularly in Hong Kong.

It’s not easy to maintain those connections. (Indeed, John Mok says that conflicts within the Umbrella Movement five years ago led to its decline.) Fights about strategy and ultimate goals with the people who are supposed to be allies can approach a vicious hostility usually only seen in feuding families.

Remembering that a diverse set of claims, political strategies, and people helps change the world helps a little.

Meanwhile, opponents work to undermine that movement unity. To break apart a social movement coalition, clever authorities deploy a mix of responses. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam is following the bust the coalition playbook right now. Joshua Wong, left, and Alex Chow, center, speaking to journalists outside the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong in 2018.On the eve of a large unpermitted demonstratation planned for last weekend, Hong Kong police arrested well-known activists like and visible pro-democracy legislators.

The strategy was to decapitate the movement and intimidate others from turning out to protest. In addition to criminal charges, demonstrators could–and did–face beatings and tear gas from police. Over 1,100 people have been arrested.

But Hong Kong could not silence the activists. Within days, Joshua Wong and Alex Chow (above) published a piece in the New York Times announcing that they would not be deterred, and if detained, tens of thousands of others would turn out anyway.

After yet another demonstration, Carrie Lam announced that she was formally withdrawing the extradition bill that was the trigger for the most recent weeks of protest. This was the first and most prominent of the activists’ formal five demands. They’ve also called for recognition that the people protesting are not rioting, and should not be subject to harsh penalties. They’ve called for the release of everyone arrested in the protests, and the dropping of all criminal charges. They’ve also demanded a formal inquiry into police tactics, and–the biggest one–the creation of meaningful universal suffrage in Hong Kong.

The government is not approaching concessions on any of these matters, and the activists have proclaimed that they will hold out for all five demands.

The political scissor move that Carrie Lam is trying to execute is intended to raise the risk and costs of continuing protests with increasingly harsh punishments, and Protesters throw back tear gas fired by the police in Wong Tai Sin during a general strike in Hong Kong on August 5, 2019. simultaneously undermine the apparent necessity of protest by giving in…a little. When the repression/concession balance works, fewer people are willing to take to the streets, with some working in institutional politics and others just leaving political action altogether. At the same time, fewer less connected protesters are easier to control. Movements fall apart, even when many organizers remain active.

In Hong Kong, it doesn’t seem to be working–at least not yet. The activists have been firm in resolve and courageous in the streets, in the airport, and elsewhere. Expect China, using Lam and whoever follows her, to continue to refine its mix of concession and repression until something gets those people to go home.

The activists know this.



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Labor Day 2019, reposted from the past, with an afterword on the day

Successful politicians exploit, buy off, and sell out the movements that sometimes buoy their campaigns.  This American story is an old one, and it’s one that leaves activists disappointed, wary, and cynical, even especially about the politicians who do the most for them.

[Recall that candidate Abraham Lincoln promised to put the preservation of the union higher on his list of priorities than ending slavery, and that abolitionists criticized President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (issued after two years of war), which ended slavery only in the territories that had seceded.]  And many do far less.
May DaySo, why is the American day to commemorate Labor held at the end of the summer, months after May Day, the workers’ celebration day virtually everywhere else in the world?  How do you turn a movement by creating an occasion for a cook-out?

President Grover Cleveland, a hard-money Democrat, and generally no friend to organized labor, signed a bill making Labor Day a national holiday at the end of June in 1894, at the height of the Populist movement, and just after the American Railway Union, led by Eugene Debs, had launched a boycott and strike, starting in Pullman, Illinois.  Protesting the Pullman Palace Car Company’s treatment of its workers, including harsh wage cuts, railway workers across the country refused to handle any train hauling a Pullman car.

The Federal government used an injunction, then troops, to battle the union and get the trains moving.  In July, just after announcing a national day to celebrate the contributions of American workers, President Cleveland ordered federal marshals–along with 12,000 Army troops, into Chicago to break up the strike.  Workers fought back, and 13 workers were killed, and at least several dozen injured.  Debs was tried for violating an injunction, and went to prison, where he discovered the writings of Karl Marx.  Clarence Darrow provided a vigorous, but unsuccessful, defense.

Debs would go to prison again, most notably for his opposition to US entry into World War I, and would run for president five times as a Socialist.

But I digress.  President Cleveland created a distinctly American Labor Day, explicitly not on May 1, which had already been the occasion for vigorous and disruptive workers’ activism.  (Read about the Haymarket affair.)  May Day remains the day for international workers mobilization.  Instead, our Labor Day is a time to mark the end of summer by cooking outdoors and shopping for school supplies.

The  US Department of Labor’s website gives credit for Labor Day to the American worker, but makes no mention of the Pullman Strike or the Haymarket demonstrations.

So, commemoration can actually be a way to neuter the historical memory.  See our discussions of commemorative days for Martin Luther KingCesar Chavez, and Fred Korematsu, all significantly more difficult characters than what they’ve come to represent.

P.S. Organized labor’s cumulative difficulties and declines have begun to lead to new strategies. One involves organizing workers that unions in the past had largely overlooked. Established unions have tried to expand their reach by organizing in retail stores and in fast food outlets, working to unite less skilled workers. Most recently, as example, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that graduate teaching assistants at private colleges could organize unions and bargain collectively. But I’m not quite convinced that graduate students are the new vanguard for the working class.

Likely more promising are efforts to use politics to improve the fortunes of American workers. Collective bargaining is one way to raise wages. Another is to mandate higher minimum wages for everyone. The Fight for $15 has had claimed some important successes in new ordinances in generally liberal cities, and has shifted the debate elsewhere. Bernie Sanders campaigned for the Democratic nomination by endorsing the proposal for a new minimum wage, and Hillary Clinton, competing for his voters, essentially endorsed the effort. One future for labor is through Democratic party politics.


2019: Reading over something I initially posted in 2011, I fear that the big story is basically the same: 1. Economic and political equality has generally increased, with the fate of less educated workers substantially worse; 2. government has done more to slant the slope of the political battlefield against workers generally and organized labor in particular…esp. see Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees; 3. the current political battle pits conservative politicians against government workers.


When well-honed routines of organizing are no longer working, organizers have to innovate. The Fight for $15 has made substantial inroads, particularly in the Democratic Party, and organizers now see immigrants as allies rather than competition, mostly. Family Leave campaigns provide a route to build bridges between different classes of workers which, ultimately, could have large payoff. Most generally, the campaign for workers welfare is transforming to a larger concern with political and economic inequality: it’s what’s left as viable strategy.

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When People Power works

Governor’s refusal to resign drives massive strike, protests in Puerto RicoThe extraordinary impact of massive and sustained peaceful assemblies in Puerto Rico stirs the heart and the imagination. It also forced Governor Ricardo Rosselló to resign. If it continues–because most grievances remain–it may do much more.

When nearly 900 pages of chats among Rosselló’s administration leaked to public view earlier this month, they provided a focus and a sharp provocation to people with a broad range of political grievances including public services, finance, and democracy more generally. (The insightful Fernando Tormos-Aponte has been writing about the process as it unfolded. Find his analysis on the fly in the Washington Post and in Jacobin.) The protests drew attention to the chats, and invited media attention and extensive and visible support for the protesters from elsewhere in the United States; Lin-Manuel Miranda, for example, is always news.

The protests directly challenged Puerto Ricans inside and outside government to take sides, and Rosselló did an extraordinarily poor job of managing his responses. A tepid apology didn’t stop people from taking to the streets, and his subsequent promise not to run for reelection garnered no visible support. The governor couldn’t wait out the people in the streets: they weren’t going away. In short order, Rosselló was alone against the Commonwealth, unable to command support or repression. His announced resignation is rightly viewed as a democratic victory for people power.

But the work to redress real grievances must continue, and maintaining organization and focus will be difficult. Expect, however, anyone who comes next to pay closer attention to how democracy works.

But it’s not just the tactic of mass and sustained demonstrations that mattered. Activists hope to find a recipe for social change they can reliably employ, and analysts look for simple and repeatable explanations for political reforms and revolutions. The world is more complicated.

Democratic reformers in Russia were working from the same playbook Police officers detain a protester during an unauthorised rally demanding independent and opposition candidates be allowed to run for office in local election in September, in downtown Moscow on July 27, 2019.earlier this week, staging an unpermitted demonstration in Moscow. Quickly and brutally, police arrested more than 1,300 people. Although the reformers are calling for more protests, it will be harder to get people to turn out when the risks are so great and so evident. Everyone involved knows that Vladimir Putin does not operate under the same constraints as the governor of Puerto Rico.

The hope is that mass moral witness will draw outside attention to a repressive and undemocratic government, inspiring others to find waysPolice officers detain protesters during an unsanctioned rally in the center of Moscow, Russia, Saturday, July 27, 2019. to support challenges. But there are no visible defections of those important to Putin’s survival….yet.

Same tactics, same basic concerns, but a very different context and set of opponents and potential allies makes for a different outcome.

The Sogo deparment store, left, can be seen amid the huge crowd as the road parts in a V shape behind themStill less clear at this point is what will eventually come of the massive and ongoing protests in Hong Kong. Millions of people have turned out to display grievances with the Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, focused initially on a proposed policy that would strengthen the influence of the Chinese government on life in Hong Kong. (N.B. I’ve found Suzanne Sataline’s reporting in the Christian Science Monitor helpful in keeping up with events and making sense of what’s happening.)

The protests, of course, followed on the dramatic umbrella protests Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong(Occupy Central) that overwhelmed Hong Kong and engaged the world five years ago. Stretching over months, demonstrators appeared in the streets presenting the same concerns about democracy and autonomy that today’s protesters express. After Occupy Central, some activists kept organizing, and some ran for office, sometimes winning legislative seats in a parliament that exercised no real power.

Aggressive policing cleared public spaces of artists and activists in 2014, but hasn’t yet stilled the efforts of today’s demonstrators. Without visible centralized leadership, factions within the broad movement have employed different tactics. Some activists broke away from a larger demonstration on July 1 to storm the Legislative Council, breaking glass and ransacking some offices. They were met with tear gas.

Each new protest raises questions about likely responses from both Hong Kong and from China. Lam first postponed and then withdrew the extradition law that was the immediate provocation for the protests. But democracy activists want much more–and so does the Chinese government.

Protesters have been able to draw massive international attention, and have exercised some influence. But the larger issues of autonomy and democracy remain. China’s leadership has a clear interest in Hong Kong’s economic success; it also has the capacity to deploy massive force to put down the new wave of protests.

The recipe for effective people power depends upon local materials and conditions: your results may vary.

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How to claim someone else’s platform….or not.

#NotTodayManBun is my favorite hashtag of 2019, so far.PHOTO: Sen. Kamala Harris was rushed on stage at a MoveOn event in San Francisco by an animal rights activist Saturday, June 1, 2019.

Aidan Cook, of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), rushed the stage at Moveon’s Big Ideas Forum, grabbed the mic from California Senator Kamala Harris, and tried to talk about his bigger idea.

I think it was about protecting people who stage animal rescues at farms and slaughterhouses from prosecution. It’s hard to know for sure, because his mic was cut almost immediately.

Karine Jean-Pierre, national spokeswoman for Moveon and frequent tv commentator, was moderating the panel; she is the hero in most Twitter accounts of the event. I’d have said Jean-Pierre was quick on her feet based on her wit, but she proved physically quick as well. In the video circulating everywhere, Jean-Pierre immediately positioned herself between Sen. Harris and Cook, pushing the much larger transgressor to the margins of the stage and grabbing at the mic. In very short order–the whole event took less than 30 seconds–larger folks took stage and escorted Cook off and out. No criminal charges were pressed.

In his spotlight moment, Aidan Cook claimed that he intended to show due respect to the women on the panel, and tried to remind the public that he had tried to grab the mic at one of candidate Bernie Sanders’s events three years earlier.

Bernie Sanders Interrupted by Black Lives Matter Activists in SeattleHe wasn’t the only person rushing candidates’ events. Occupy activists drove a flustered Michele Bachmann off the stage in 2012, and Black Lives Matter activists seized the stage from Sanders four years later.

Presidential campaigns, which bring their own crowds and attract mainstream media, provide lots of great sites for protest movements. But when is seizing the platform a smart strategy, and when is it just silly?

You see, I don’t think Cook’s transgressive protest did much for his cause, animal rights. In general, to count as a win, you need to get people to talk about your issue–in addition to your tactic. But most of the online discussion focused on Cook’s size, his hairstyle (see #NotTodayManBun, above), and his shoes; overwhelmingly, he generated ridicule.

You could say that any transgression is inappropriate, but I think that’s a mistake. The Black Lives Matter activists ultimately influenced not only Sanders’s rhetoric, but also Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and certainly virtually all of the Democratic contenders this year. It’s tempting to pick the causes we like, and justify whatever their advocates do, but I think we can do a little better.

BLM activists represented a cause with support from a large share of Democratic voters that was getting little attention from the Democratic presidential hopefuls. When activists seized the stage, they had allies in the larger audience, cheering, or at least ready to listen.

In contrast, Direct Action Everywhere has made no visible inroads in either political party. The local audience was eager to hear what Harris had to say about student loans.

It’s too easy to conclude that Cook picked a poor strategy, and much harder to come up with an approach that might work better. I’d guess that animal rights activists could learn from the very successful long haul strategy to target Seaworld, and to continue to nest claims against factory farming in the larger cause of climate change.

The successful transgressive moment depends on lots of organizing beforehand.

When you take the stage, you want to know there are at least a few people eager to see you there.

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Arthur as outcome

Arthur Mr. Ratburn Gay

I was surprised and delighted to see that Mr. Ratburn, a demanding and very caring third grade teacher in the cartoon town of Ellwood City, has found love and gotten married. Mr. Ratburn is mostly a supporting character in PBS’s Arthur, a wonderful children’s television show centered on a bunch of anthropomorphic animal children. Based on the already classic children’s books by Marc Brown, it’s run for more than twenty years.

I loved watching it with my kids when they were of age. We even got to meet Marc Brown when he visited town to sign books at A Whale of a Tale, our favorite childen’s Image result for john lewis on pbs arthurbookstore. Brown was a little shy, but warm, and clearly very kind–like the tv show. He said he wanted children to see a world in which they would be loved and accepted. Alas, I stopped watching when my kids grew out of cartoons. (I missed, for example, the guest appearance of Representative John Lewis [at right], as a cartoon bear congressman.) Sigh!

In the new story, the third graders are worried when they think that Mr. Ratburn will be marrying someone harsh and demanding, particularly concerned that their teacher will take out his frustrations on his students with more onerous homework assignments. They’re happy to learn that Mr. Ratburn’s partner is someone nice, an aardvark who makes chocolate. No Supreme Court cases are quoted, and the word “homogamy” doesn’t come up. At end, the children are troubled only by how poorly the adults dance.

The nonchalance about the Ratburn nuptial reflects and promotes changing social attitudes. A court legalized same sex marriage in Massachusetts just fifteen years ago, and the decision, Goodrich v. Dept. of Public Health, 798 N.E.2d 941 (Mass. 2003), generated a harsh blowback from religious conservatives.  Fewer than a third of Americans then supported same sex marriage, and the Goodridges paid a price for leading the way. But the world changes, and the arc of the moral universe can be bent toward justice.

These days, just over 60 percent of Americans support same sex unions, including only about 44 percent of Republicans. It’s not surprising that religious conservatives used the show to rail about both deteriorating social norms and funding public television (like this or this), but the criticisms were not echoed in more mainstream outlets, and there’s no report that PBS refused to air the show anywhere.

When it becomes a little easier for gays and lesbians to come out, more people are able to see that they already know friends, family, and coworkers with different sexual orientations. More people, gay and straight, have attended same sex weddings–just like the one in Ellwood City. This makes it a little bit easier for gay people to come out….and so on.

At the moment, there are mixed signs of progress. Pete Buttigieg, an openly gay candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination take much more flack for his experience and his ideas than his sexuality. (Note: an effort to fabricate evidence of his sexual immorality collapsed in spectacular fashion.) But today, May 17, the House of Representatives passed legislation affording protection against discrimination to LGBT people, but the bill is extremely unlikely to make it through the Senate, and only 21 states prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexuality.

The Ratburn marriage is a small step forward in what will continue to be a very long march.

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Alyssa Milano, Lysistrata, and the sex strike for reproductive rights

Actress/activist and Twitter master, Alyssa Milano, is rightly concerned about the contagion of new state laws restricting access to abortion.

Sniffing the prospects of a conservative Catholic majority on the Supreme Court eager to overrule Roe v. Wade, Republican state legislators are racing to pass the laws that will eventually bring the issue back up to the high court. They’ve proposed–and sometimes passed–bills that restrict certain kinds of abortion procedures, mandate that women explain their reasons, or prohibit abortion after the detection of a heartbeat, which comes about six weeks into a pregnancy–before a woman might even know she’s pregnant.

Democratic legislators in a few other states, also anticipating the Court overruling Roe, have been writing bills that codify abortion rights. Practically, this means that–just like decades ago–women who can afford to travel will have access to abortion.

Milano thinks that her allies have been slow to recognize that women are being treated as second class citizens, and that the situation is desperate. Proposing a sex strike, complete with a hashtag, is a way to get attention and underscore the urgency.

She’s generated a great deal of attention (with all else, Alyssa Milano is a Twitter master), but most of it is ridicule; criticism of the sex strike idea is crowding out talk about reproductive rights.

The idea of withholding sex for political purposes dates back, at least, to Aristophanes’s comedy, Lysistrata, first performed in 411 BC. The women of Athens, tired of losing theirImage result for lysistrata sons and drachma to ongoing wars, withhold sex from men until the wars stop. Women saw no other way to represent their interests, banned from the public square, democracy, and even the stage. (The play was, of course, originally performed with an all-male cast.)

But they did more than just the sex strike. The women also occupied the treasury, stopped taking care of children, and negotiated alliances with the similarly frustrated women of the neighboring city-states at war against and with Athens. All of this takes organizing and sacrifice–Lysistrata and her allies like sex and children. The idea was for the committed to stop cooperating with evil in any way they could. The play’s a broad farce, often performed with garish phallic props, and jokes that would embarrass a fifth grade boy.

For those of us with a glancing familiarity with ancient Greek theater, the play is a relief. Unlike the dramas we read in high school (think Antigone, for example), no one dies, encounters moral dilemmas or grievous wounds, or even lives on to suffer. Instead, the resolve to fight wars collapses, and the story ends with peace and sex. It’s hard to find a more encouraging tale of the power of collective action!

The sex strike periodically recirculates as an idea for action against war, but the story never goes as far or as well as Aristophanes promises. The obstacles Milano’s proposal encountered tell us something about the contested future of abortion politics in the United States.

First, opinion on abortion has been remarkably stable since Roe, with the largest share of Americans supporting legal access with some restrictions. The public dImage result for United States public opinion abortionebate has grown increasingly partisan and polarized, but opinion isn’t particularly gendered. There are plenty of women–and men–spread across the political spectrum.

Second, for a barrel of obvious reasons, women are mostly sleeping with people who agree with them on the issue. Depriving an abortion rights supporter of sex may intensify the urgency of concern with reproductive rights, but remedies and effective action are harder to find. The New Yorker who voted for legislators who would protect abortion access is unlikely to find much influence in the Alabama legislature.

Third, American women enjoy substantially greater access to political influence than Athenian women 2,000 years ago. Protesting, lobbying, voting, and running for office are ready means to represent their concerns.

Importantly, the flurry of state action on abortion access will make abortion access a far more urgent issue to women–and men. For nearly fifty years, abortion opponents have been able to rail against the practice confident that they–and their daughters, wives, and girlfriends still had access. (Read about Tennessee’s Scott DesJarlais, an ardent anti-Image result for alabama abortion lawabortion crusader who pressured both his ex-wife and his mistress to get abortions. Always naive, I’m shocked that he’s still in Congress.)

If the Roberts Court hacks away at protection of abortion rights, people will have to face the consequences of their politics in ways they haven’t since the 1970s. Politicians who have run on empty platitudes about the sanctity of life will have to confront voters who see real changes in policy.

The Alabama bill, which prohibits access to abortion for women who are raped or are the victims of incest, is bound to be far less popular when it affects real women, and not abstractions. Activists across the nation have been quick to point out that the 25 state senators who voted for the bill were all Republican, white, and men.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

As the sex strike stalls,, activists will turn to other, more disruptive and far more visible, kinds of politics.

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On the day of a global climate strike, youth and activism

Below is a post I offered at The Conversation last week, where you will find some comments. Unlike almost everything else on this site, the entry below benefited from the good attentions of an editor, Emily Schwartz Greco.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s 9-year-old granddaughter Yolanda Renee King holds hands with Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student and shooting survivor Jaclyn Corin (right) as they address the March for Our Lives event at a rally in Washington, on M

A gaggle of young activists recently paid Dianne Feinstein a visit at the senator’s San Francisco office, imploring her to support the Green New Deal framework for confronting climate change. She responded by explaining the complicated legislative process, emphasizing her decades of experience and promising to pursue a considerably more modest approach to confronting climate change with a better shot at passage in the Senate.

The lawmaker tried to come across as sympathetic, yet sounded condescending in a short video clip that quickly went viral, eliciting a stream of criticism. A longer version told a more nuanced story, including why she believes her own “responsible resolution” has a better chance of passage.

It’s easy to understand why Feinstein’s confrontation went viral. Saying “no” to earnest children who see their futures in jeopardy makes politicians look callous.

Although the advent of social media has made it easier for millions to witness these awkward encounters, there is nothing new about kids engaging in grassroots activism. And based on my research about social movements, I find that today’s young activists have a lot in common with the leaders of earlier youth movements.

This clip of Sen. Dianne Feinstein arguing with a group of students about climate policy went viral.

Young people often appear at the front lines of social change for three main reasons.

1. Passionate about causes

First, young people may refuse to ignore injustices or wait patiently when they feel passionately about a cause. That means they’re more apt to take risks.

During the civil rights era, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed and seven other children known as the “Little Rock Nine” followed federal troops past jeering crowds of white teens to integrate Central High School in Arkansas in 1957.

More than 60 years later, the dean of students at a public high school less than an hour from Little Rock paddled three high school students for walking out of school to protest gun violence.

In both instances, young activists took risks that would scare off most adults.

The nine African-American students who entered segregated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957 were escorted by troops. AP Photo

2. Dramatic images

Second, politically engaged young people can create dramatic and appealing images to dramatize their cause. That’s what happened when Martin Luther King Jr. put schoolchildren at the front of a march for civil rights through Birmingham, Alabama. He surely knew they were likely to face police willing to use firehoses and dogs to disperse the crowds.

The visuals horrified the nation and inspired more action not only in the streets but in Congress – which passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 soon after that showdown.

Similarly, Jefferson County, Colorado high school students walked out of school in 2014 to campaign against their new school board’s promise to stop offering an advanced placement course in American history because these officials said its curriculum undermined patriotism. Some of the students must have read ahead in the text, for they carried placards with slogans like “There is nothing more patriotic than protest.”

Students walked out of school when the Jefferson County School Board in Colorado sought to change the AP US history curriculum in 2014. AP Photo/Brennan Linsley

3. Dilemmas for authorities

Third, dismissing or attacking young activists who appear earnest and sincere can prove perilous.

When Birmingham’s children’s march was met with police violence, national attention forced civil rights to the top of the White House’s agenda. It also cost Bull Connor, Birmingham’s public safety commissioner, his job.

Before Feinstein’s awkward encounter went viral, Fox News host Laura Ingraham experienced a similar snafu when she ridiculed gun-control activist David Hogg. The pundit teased the Parkland shooting survivor after he didn’t get into any of the four California universities at the top of his list, a move widely perceived as bullying.

Hogg’s youth made it tough for Ingraham to attack him. His political savvy made it even tougher when he tweeted the names of Ingraham’s sponsors, and suggested his supporters boycott her show. Ingraham eventually apologized, but only after losing some sponsors.

Hogg won this political standoff and even more. He will enroll at Harvard University in the fall of 2019 – along with Jaclyn Corin, a fellow Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School graduate and March for Our Lives co-founder.

Sunrise movement

The young activists who caught Feinstein off-guard, and another group that got arrested for trying to discuss climate policy with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, belong to the Sunrise Movement. The relatively new group describes itself as an “army of young people.”

Like other youngsters before them, its members claim to have greater stake in forceful environmental action than their elders. Unlike many of the adults who call the shots on policy, they expect to be around to face the consequences should their leaders keep failing to take forceful action on climate change.

American kids and young adults are making these claims not only in the halls of Congress but also in court. More than 20 young people are plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit, Juliana v. U.S., that aims to force the government to slash the emissions that cause climate change.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. Effekt/Anders Hellberg

Young people around the world, led by Swedish teen Greta Thunberg, are also organizing “climate strikes,” where young people will skip school to discuss the urgency of doing more about climate change and protest how little progress the authorities have made.

On March 15, tens of thousands of U.S. children plan to take part in a global action by walking out of schools. Large numbers of European students are already staging similar events.

Some critics are arguing that these young activists are serving as pawns of manipulative adults who are eager to use fresh faces to tout their own cause. The writer Caitlin Flanagan dismissed them as “jackbooted tots and aggrieved teenagers” and Feinstein referred to “whoever sent you here” during her brush with the Sunrise Movement.

But as sociologist Rebecca Klatch has found, teen activists have historically tended to echo their parents’ views authentically, just with more energy and enthusiasm.

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