Kids, Climate and Protest

My local newspaper published a rant this weekend by a local conservative think tank guy criticizing – well, everything. It had all that Fox Newsy, right-wing snark about sneaky lobbyists, special interests, left-wing educators and kids who ought to be in school lest they be corrupted. It felt like a call to return to Don Draper’s Mad Men.

The piece is here.

Let’s remember that the Climate Action day on Friday was about a mortal threat to humanity and the planet that sustains life. The writer, Rob Roper, doesn’t mention it. But buried deep in his tirade is the belief that a warming of the Earth’s climate due to an extraction economy that burns fossil fuels to create our wealth is a left-wing conspiracy by elites, liberals, teachers and soft education administrators. 

The point that he DOES make is this: Kids should stay in school. They should not skip out, disrupt traffic and make it harder for people to go about their daily lives. He says this is not just dangerous. It is illegal. And these kids are abetted by school administrators who are actually encouraging them to leave school and protest. He calls it the abandonment of the education mission in favor of political indoctrination. 

His solution? School choice. Let kids go to school where they want and create educational competition that will strip all this liberal propaganda from our schools. Betsy Devos to the rescue of society. 

Now I am no doctrinaire public school guy. My kids did every kind of school out there, including homeschool. (That’s a post for another day) But criticizing protest by kids as a way to sell school choice? I thought it was the job of school to encourage critical thinking. 

This reminds me of the white Alabama clergymen who said basically the same thing about Martin Luther King Jr. and his tactics of non-violent protest back in 1963. They called King an outsider and a law breaker. A judge threw him in a Birmingham jail for protesting.

King responded with his  “Letter from Birmingham Jail,’’ in which he explained and defended the use of non-violent protest, even when illegal. He said disobeying unjust laws was his duty, even patriotic. 

King’s letter is here. Take the time to read it. It is a nice template for how to live a good life.

So it is with the kids in our streets on Friday. They were not protesting unjust laws. They were protesting a social order and a political system that is not listening to them. They are beseeching adults to hear them – on gun violence, climate change and their future. 

We have not listened. Expressing our own frustration, we elected a sexual predator and unindicted law breaker as president who denies climate change and does nothing on gun violence while supporting tax cuts for powerful corporations that benefit from the extraction economy.

The kids are asking us why we did that, when they are the ones who will inherit the society we have created. 

My only regret is that the protest was limited to one day and that the kids will return to school. I wish they had taken the Month off to protest – against their parents, their school system, their political leadership and their community – all of which are failing them and dooming their future. I wish they would snarl traffic every morning and disrupt the Statehouse every day.

We are never going back to a world Rob Roper prefers – obedient students performing to the dictates of the very adults who have ignored their pleas. We need more protest and disruption, not less – before it’s too late.