Yes, the Kids Are Alright

Like many, I’ve been inspired by watching so many of the teenagers who survived last week’s shooting in Florida turn into activists and demand action. I know I joke around a lot about “get off my lawn,” but I’ve been a big fan of those damn kids these days for many years now and this only reinforces that.

I’ve done a lot of speaking on college campuses over the last decade and I always leave those events feeling inspired and energized. Now I know that’s a self-selected group, not a random sample; those kids are all involved with Secular Student Alliance clubs, so they’re almost always going to be more engaged with society and on the right side of important issues. But I’ve met so many young people in those groups who are really committed to making society better that I can’t help but feel good about the coming generation. And the polls bear that out. Young people are far less bigoted than my generation was, much more interested in fostering a more fair, equal and just society. They’re more open to diversity and to new experiences than we were.

I think of young people like Sean Omar Rivera, who leads the SSA club at the University of Texas – San Antonio, who doesn’t seem to sleep. The guy is tireless. Every single day he’s out there doing something — meeting with legislators, registering people to vote, leading a protest. And all while being a full-time student (and soon, first time dad). I get exhausted just reading his Facebook updates, but he inspires me and he gives me hope for the future. And for a guy with a pretty cynical nature, that’s not an easy thing to do.

These young people in Florida are cut from the same cloth. But now comes the key question: How can we help sustain the energy that has been unleashed? There are many things to do: Form permanent organizations to continue the advocacy, or join up with existing (and already effective) organizations; make participation as easy as possible through technology (like automated emailing of legislators and the like); harness the power of social media. But the real key on this particular issue of gun control is the most simple and obvious: Money.

The NRA has virtually unlimited amounts of money. In 2016, they spent more than $50 million to influence the election. No group on the pro-gun control side has anything close those kinds of resources. There needs to be a serious fundraising apparatus built, or there needs to be at least one of the truly big liberal donors — Soros, Buffet, Gates — to put up enough money to compete with that. The overwhelming majority of Americans support basic gun control measures like an assault weapons ban, universal background checks, and such, but those numbers don’t mean much if they don’t have the money to — let’s face it — buy off politicians, or at least prevent them from being bought by the other side.

At the same time, us old farts need to provide all the support we can to this new generation of activists. Put them at the forefront, give them the spots on stage and the slots on TV and back them up with our resources and experience. Society will be much better off for it.

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