Love and voting
Echoes of Dr. King in a new generation’s politics
By Rick Holmes
April 5, 2018
Ruidoso, NM - These Parkland kids have been bringing me back to high school. There’s something familiar in their idealism and innocence, in the way they care for each other. There’s something special about the bond between high school buddies.
Familiar, but so different. My friends didn’t huddle in closets listening to their classmates being murdered. We weren’t the center of global media attention while the shots still rang in our ears. We didn’t find ourselves leading a renewed movement for gun control, suddenly saddled with the expectations of millions of supporters and subject to vicious attacks from thousands of opponents.
But they are still kids. They have a youthful innocence that shines through their anger and their tears. They are idealistic enough to say “change begins today” and believe it. And they are talking about love – love for each other and love as a force for change.
“Good night, all,” Cameron Kasky wrote to his friends – his real-life buddies and the 358,000 people who follow him on Twitter. “Love each other even more tomorrow. It’s not always easy, but I’m gonna try extra hard and I encourage you to as well.”
Fifty years ago, when I was in high school, we talked about love, too. There was the romantic, physical energy between two people, of course, and the love between close friends. But we also spoke of love as a force in the world.
We were the “Peace and Love” generation. We wore LOVE on our protest buttons and tie-dyed T-shirts. It was on silkscreen prints and on postage stamps. “All you need is love,” the Beatles preached.
The word had spiritual power, especially for New Testament-oriented Christians. Still does. But it had political power as well. Stopping the killing in Vietnam was an act of love. So was fighting poverty and marching for civil rights.
Fifty years ago, no one spoke of love more powerfully than the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Love was central to his philosophy of nonviolence. “When evil men shout ugly words of hatred,” he said, “good men must commit themselves to the glories of love.”
King had larger dreams than the one people always talk about, the low bar of non-discrimination based on skin color. He envisioned a “beloved community,” built on love, where caring and compassion drive political policies and problems are “resolved peacefully and without bitterness.”
“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic,” King wrote. “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
Now, in a political era that has been defined by anger, hate and divisiveness, love is making a comeback.
It may have started with the movement for marriage equality, where the fundamental issue was the freedom to marry the person you love. The message of Lin-Manuel Miranda, who may be the Beatles for the Hamilton generation, resonates with young idealists: “Love is love is love is love is love is love is love.”
In the wake of the 2016 election, journalists scurried to interview Trump voters, to understand what was behind the anger in the Rust Belt and the rise of hate groups. As so often happens, they were slow to see the next wave coming.
That wave formed quickly, and the first surprise was that it was led not by Democratic insiders but by women, many of them new to politics. The second surprise is that the new recruits aren’t trying to match the anger of Trump’s troops. There’s anger at Trump, to be sure, but I hear a lot of new candidates vowing to bring civility back to politics. They are preaching kindness and turning on the nice.
Now here come these kids, reshaping the media landscape and the debate over gun violence. They are still teenagers, prone to putting things out on social media they later regret. But they are trying to stay out of the mud, even as they engage mud-throwing critics, trying to keep the the focus on issues, not personalities.
They are also trying to make the political system work, organizing town-hall meetings in every Congressional district to make gun violence an issue in every campaign. And they are talking about love again.
“Love and voting will get us through this,” Parkland survivor David Hogg tweeted, again urging people on all sides of the gun control debate – including himself – to show respect and work together.
Love and voting: Not a bad theme for a nation in dire need of a better kind of politics. It’s one I think Dr. King would appreciate.