In case you missed it, the Sunrise Movement, which claims to be "building an army of young people to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process," sent a group of children and teens to Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s San Francisco office to demand she vote for the Green New Deal.
Armed with earnestness and rehearsed talking points, they insisted we only have twelve years to turn things around or face utter devastation. The young people showed little interest in the senator's take on climate change, assuredly on the left but somewhat more nuanced, which she had her staff copy and hand out to the group. The Sunrise Movement later released a heavily edited video of the encounter in an attempt to portray Sen. Feinstein as insensitive to the concerns of the child activists.
The unedited video shows she was not rude. Using the tone and demeanor of an adult who is taking children seriously but not kowtowing to them, Sen. Feinstein calmly and patiently explained to the children how the political process works and why their “my way or the highway” tactics are not going to be successful. She asserted her experience and authority and didn’t back down. Good for her.
Caitlin Flanagan, writing in The Atlantic, summed up nicely the schooling these children—and their adult chaperones –got from Senator Feinstein on Friday morning.
But what made the short video so rich is that these activists were too young to know something important about old women. Old women have finally—finally—given up on the notion that they are expected to be agreeable to rude people.
They have often done hard things: raised children, buried parents, worked at demanding jobs, and seen a lot of history. Bust into the office of an old woman with the intention of telling her how uninformed she is? That probably won’t go well for you.
(Flanagan’s piece is so deliciously written and spot on you don’t want to miss it. Make sure you click over to read it when you’re done.)
All of this brings us around to the bigger questions: Is it OK to co-opt the voices of children to advance the agendas of the adults around them? Is it a good idea to frighten children by telling them that dire things will happen if your policies on climate change are not adopted? Children, because they are children, are not able to evaluate what they are being fed. But they can parrot it.
That is why photogenic children make great political pawns—they are malleable and enthusiastic. Anyone who says "no" to them on camera, or pushes back on their narrative is automatically a meany, and no one wants to be a meany.
I don’t know where the notion of the wisdom of youth comes from, but I’ve been a child and have two children, so I know for a fact it is bunk. My kids are quite smart, but they don’t have the experience to be truly wise yet. I didn’t at their age either.
Sen. Feinstein did the young Sunrise kids a favor–she respected them by taking them seriously and then patiently explained how the political process works in real life, giving them tips on how to more successfully advocate for their issue.
Sadly, what the children, and the adults who put words in their mouths, wanted was agreement from a politician afraid to challenge earnest children. It would have been a victory not for the children but for the adults who put them up to it—puppeteers as Karol Markowicz called these adults.
If more leaders responded to the emotional blackmail of weaponized tots the way Sen. Feinstein did here, adults would be less tempted to use children for their own political gain.