Students plan to descend on Washington, D.C, on March 24th to participate in the “March For Our Lives.” And the mayor of Baltimore wants to help.
Mayor Catherine Pugh’s announcement this week that Baltimore will pay as much as $100,000 to hire a fleet of buses to help transport city school students to a planned “March For Our Lives” national gun control protest in Washington, D.C., on March 24. In a different school district or a different time, it might be regarded as an inappropriate use of tax dollars to support what is essentially a political protest. Certainly, it’s not difficult to find $100,000 in unmet needs in city schools, from malfunctioning furnaces to undrinkable water.
It’s political protest. It’s a gift of tax dollars, levied for other purposes and repurposed to pursue a political goal. So it’s an improper use of funds?
But giving Baltimore students a chance to have a voice on the subject of gun violence is too important to be taken lightly. Take, for example, students at Excel Academy who have witnessed the murders of seven of their peers — seven — in the course of just 15 months. Baltimore experienced the highest homicide rate in the city’s history last year. Even if the homicide rate declines, and there are certainly early indications this year that it is, the pain will not be over for these kids — not today, not tomorrow, maybe not for years. They bring issues to the table that the Parkland kids don’t, and they need a chance to have their voices heard.
The deaths of children by guns is terrible. That children want to be heard on the issue of gun control, whether from Parkland where the extreme outlier of a school shooter murdered 17 people, or from Baltimore where the mayor has been notably ineffective in preventing outrages, particularly those committed by her police, is an important exercise in protest and populism.
Whether it changes anything isn’t the point. That they should be engaged in issues and express their views matters, even if it amounts to nothing. Most protests go nowhere, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t entitled to protest their government and shouldn’t become involved citizens. Even children.
But should one government finance the protest of another government?
Marches are normally “bottom up.” They are formed by people who are not government, usually to protest something that government is doing or — in the case of the “March for our Lives” student march against gun violence set for March 24 in Washington, D.C. — not doing.
Governments do not sponsor marches, unless that government is, say, the government of China or Russia or North Korea, where governments sponsor marches all the time that show how much the people support their governments.
In fairness, the kids of Parkland started this march, so it was “formed by people” rather than government. Also in fairness, this isn’t comparable to the dog and pony shows put on by totalitarian governments. These students came up with an idea and are trying to make it happen. Mayor Pugh’s offer of assistance isn’t an instigation of protest that hadn’t otherwise been planned, and the protest would go on if she put no money on the table and provided no buses to bring the kids to the march.
And yes, some kids will go to D.C. because it will be a fun, and cost-free, field trip with their friends rather than any particular desire to march in a protest. So not everyone present has pure motives? So what?
When governments get involved, the whole tenor of the march changes. That’s why Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh’s plan to spend $100,000 on a fleet of buses to transport teens to the nation’s capital is so troubling.
There’s “get involved” as in dictating the purpose, planning the show, picking the speakers and slogans. And then there’s “get involved” by providing transportation. Does providing buses change “the whole tenor”? How so? Are the buses really “so troubling”? Why?
The reason Mayor Pugh has given for supporting it, too, is flawed: “diversity.”
So, she’s going to use gifts and taxpayer money to take our kids to D.C. so that our kids can be what? Exploited for their race?
This raises one of the peculiar issues of this March For Our Lives. These are young people who may not have a fully formed understanding of the issues and problems raised by their cause. There are adults who are deeply involved in the battle over gun control who will use their youth, their naivete, their emotional appeal, for their own purposes.
And then there’s diversity? Is Parkland too white, so they need some brown-skinned kids from Baltimore to add color to the march? Are they being bused in because they believe in the cause or as props for the optics?
But there is another lesson about protest that will be muddied by the bus ride.
Part of protesting is finding your own way, for your own reasons.
It’s not easy for young people to get around. They can’t hop into their VW microbus, or hitchhike their way to D.C. (well, they could, but they’ve been so indoctrinated to “stranger danger” that it seems inconceivable today). But that’s a critical part of the price of protest, that one suffers the burdens of making it happen.
It’s like people who engage in civil disobedience, and then complain that they’ve been arrested for their offense. Exactly. That’s what it means to engage in civil disobedience, that you are willing to be arrested for your cause. Arrest isn’t a bug, but a feature, that the cause is so important that the people engaged are prepared to pay the price for their actions.
Let the kids march. But whether it’s the kids breaking open their piggy bank or their parents funding their bus ticket, keep government out of protest, from its instigation to its facilitation. This isn’t at the behest of Baltimore, and Mayor Pugh has no role to play in it. If Baltimore students want to march on Washington, god bless them. But let them do it.