Editorial: Student protests rise to level that deserves attention

So, maybe this is how you really do it. If you were alive and cogent in the '60s and '70s you don't have to think hard to remember the protests that washed over the nation - night after night of unadulterated fury from college campuses and cities across America, coming to you through your black and white TV.

Those protests were loud, often crass, fueled by anthems. They were rage personified, rage over the escalating body counts in Vietnam, the violence that erupted over civil rights and the abject denial of women's rights.

And while they were undeniably effective in helping eventually turn the tide of public opinion against the war, they also created a polarization among Americans that lasted for more than a decade.

The students at Parkland and at high schools in the suburbs and around the country are angry, too. Though not to the level of Vietnam, they too have unacceptable body counts. They too are up against an entrenched bureaucracy where people have too much to lose to get behind the idea of change.

So why is it so different this time?

For one, they haven't caused the polarization that has gripped the nation. They have inherited it. And to a large degree they are going to have to work within it. They seem to understand that progress comes in many small victories, and that in winning the day against assault rifles perhaps millions of people who disagree with them don't have to go home as losers.

And that includes the many smart, committed teens who look at the problem of kids as targets differently and either didn't join the protests or demonstrated for alternative solutions.

And there's something else at work here. Watching these calm, collected kids organize protests and refuse to be cowed by the powerful forces against them is, well, humbling and not a little awe-inspiring. On Wednesday, we saw more of that on a much larger stage - teens who walked out of school for 17 minutes, expressing themselves in a focused, well-organized way and, in many cases, accepting the consequences for their acts of civil disobedience.

Are they passionate? Are they angry? Yes and yes. Are they also clear and concise and able to think past today's protest toward the bigger prize down the road? Yes, they are.

Maybe the biggest legacy these kids will leave us is in changing the rules of engagement - where dissent is something higher than the frantic, profane bullying that takes place on Facebook and other social media.

Maybe the times really are changing, again, and for the better.

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