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Local Column

Olson: Sorry, students – adults have stopped listening

Some bad news for the young people who plan to walk out of their schools in DeKalb, Sycamore and elsewhere to protest the continuing plague of school shootings: The adults in power already have stopped listening to you.

In the aftermath of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, people were listening – a little. Survivors of the shooting spoke to Florida lawmakers, and some of them talked with President Donald Trump at a big media event, to which Trump brought a note reminding himself to say, “I hear you.”

Many students wanted a ban on assault weapons such as the military-style AR-15 rifle, which the shooter in Florida used to kill 17 people and wound 17 others in six minutes. They wanted universal background checks for gun buyers. They asked to raise the legal age for gun purchases to 21, the same way many places now regulate tobacco and all of them regulate alcohol. They asked for more funding for mental health treatment, and a means for courts to disarm people who show warning signs of violent behavior.

Politicians paid them lip service, then went off to do whatever they wanted, which in many cases was what gun-rights advocates wanted.

Trump went back on ideas, including raising the legal age and universal background checks for gun buyers, and wouldn’t touch a ban on assault rifles. Here in Illinois, Gov. Bruce Rauner has announced he’ll veto a bill that would have required gun dealers in Illinois to be licensed by the state.

Trump and Florida lawmakers are pushing a solution that few students or educators seem to want: arming teachers.

Right. That will work about as well as giving more booze to an alcoholic and hoping they decide to stop drinking.

So look, young people: The people in power have demonstrated they are going to do what they want, not what you’re asking. They want to play this just as they did after tragedies like Sandy Hook – act concerned, placate victims, do as little as necessary, move on.

It’s important to honor the victims of the Parkland shooting today, but change takes more than walking out of school for 17 minutes one morning. If you truly want change, you will have to make people to listen with your voices and your votes.

Many people will see news coverage of the walkout and write things on social media such as, “those kids should get back in class and protest on their own time.” They’ll take every opportunity to paint you as naive and disrespectful.

You don’t need them. They’re not going to help you, they never were going to help you, and their opinion is not worth any more (or less) than yours.

Yours is hardly the first generation to deal with this. In October 1967, about 100,000 people went to Washington, D.C., to protest the Vietnam War. It took more than four years and countless more protests – and draft calls, and deaths – before the U.S. withdrew in August 1973.

Then as now, young people were being killed, and they were not happy. People decided to stand up then, just as many young people are standing up now. Good for you.

The millennial generation will remake our country in time, and you might as well start now.

But forcing real change takes more than a walkout. It takes dedication; it takes votes.

The adults aren’t listening yet. Keep at it, and one day they will.

• Eric Olson is general manager of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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