Students Leading #NeverAgain Can Learn From The Anti-War Activism Of The '60s

Louis Reinstein, embraces his son, Daniel, 10, during a protest against guns on the steps of the Broward County federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Feb. 17. (Brynn Anderson/AP)
Louis Reinstein, embraces his son, Daniel, 10, during a protest against guns on the steps of the Broward County federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Feb. 17. (Brynn Anderson/AP)

Students supporting #NeverAgain, the nascent gun control movement, have organized extensive, peaceful, thoughtful demonstrations that would have made the anti-Vietnam War movement, known for its peace-ins, sit-ins and bed-ins, proud. But if they want to achieve deep cultural change, today’s protesters need to expose the military industrial complex that is alive and well on their own campuses, as college students did in the 1960s.

Just as anti-Vietnam War activists saw themselves as the victims of government policies that were sending them off to be killed, Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School students today see themselves as casualties of permissive state and federal rules that allowed Nikolas Cruz, 19, to buy an AR-15 and several other rifles and murder 17 of their classmates and faculty.

Stoneham Douglas students have moved remarkably fast, securing an audience with the president, senators, legislators and local politicians. They have already discovered that new legislation does not happen quickly, and they will likely find that laws won’t change as extensively as they had hoped.

For #NeverAgain to succeed, they must get in between the public and legislators, and prove that the current laws and ordinances do not represent the wishes or best interests of the majority of the public. They have to be willing to illustrate the problem at their own institutions — their schools — just as the anti-Vietnam movement did.

In 2016, schools across 30 states accepted nearly nearly $2.2 million in grants and donations from the NRA.

From 1965 to 1970, anti-war activists protested college-based programs and research laboratories that represented the alliance between universities and the military, resulting in weapons that were used by American soldiers in Vietnam. Student activists argued that they were paying tuition directly or through taxes to institutions that were furthering a war they didn’t support.

According to sociologist Kelly Moore, author of “How Social Movements Matter," their protests worked because the audience they were trying to influence — scientists — began to question the role of science in how it serves the public.

Now, Stoneham Douglas students, and the thousands of young people who have joined their cause, should call attention to the military-industrial complex in their school that helped lead to the killing of teenagers. Today’s administrators are likely to be as receptive to students’ arguments as scientists were in the 1960s on the question of how to best serve the public. One of the basic goals of a school is to provide a safe space for education. Stoneham Douglas wasn’t a secure environment, even though taxpayers entrusted it to do so.

Cruz learned how to shoot as part of the school’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) program that in 2016 received support (valued at $10,827) from the National Rifle Association Foundation, when he was on the squad. He killed three JROTC cadets during the massacre on Valentine’s Day.

The #NeverAgain activists have called out politicians for taking NRA money, but have not yet called out schools for accepting grants and donations, nearly $2.2 million across 30 states in 2016.

The NRA Foundation also has contributed to churches, Boy Scout chapters, agriculture programs and local gun clubs, providing more than $335 million in grants since 1990.

As an organization, the NRA, contains an inherent conflict. Started after the Civil War to improve civilians’ aim, it also promotes itself as an organization that values gun safety. Its advocacy of loose gun laws has grown far beyond anyone’s ability to prevent rogue actors from committing atrocities. There have been mass shootings in churches, colleges, schools, restaurants, homes, stores, concerts and on our streets. By reaching out and coalescing with people who have been touched by this violence, #Never Again could become a far-reaching, powerful movement, bigger than the anti-war movement ever was.

These smart, young protesters are already encouraging businesses to discontinue their links to the NRA. Chubb Insurance, MetLife, car rental companies and several other corporations have stopped providing discounts to NRA members. Stoneham Douglas student David Hogg wrote on Twitter that he has tried to cancel his own subscription to Amazon Prime and encouraged FedEx investors to sell their stock to pressure the companies into severing ties with the gun group.

 It’s just as important to identify the less obvious, noncommercial, non-political institutions that benefit from NRA Foundation money. Such investigation will require digging into records the organization is required to file with the Internal Revenue Service.

Only by going this extra distance will the protesters be able to expose the deep penetration of the NRA into America’s everyday institutions. By suggesting those establishments choose better partners, they may be able to change the deep cultural acceptance of violence that makes America so dangerous.


Headshot of Susan E. Reed

Susan E. Reed Cognoscenti contributor
Susan E. Reed is a columnist who has won several awards for her international reporting and her book, "The Diversity Index."



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