Dear Campus Campers: Do You Know What You’re Up Against? Hint:

It’s not the police, or the university administrations, or President Biden. It’s this:

These numbers are from late March, before your movement spread widely. We’ll have to see how your protests move the numbers—and in which direction.

I am sympathetic to student protests, having been in the leadership of some on two university campuses in the ‘60s. Our two main goals were 1) to end segregation (the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was our real leader on that) and 2) to end the war in Vietnam. In retrospect, I still believe today what I believed then: We were right on both counts.

But were we successful? On the first count, we accomplished a lot, although there was a long way to go, and there still is now. One big reason for this relative success was of course Dr. King, but another was President Lyndon Baynes Johnson, who politically strong-armed into existence the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (yes, the same laws being broken apart by the current Supreme Court). Nevertheless in those years the culture of the country with regard to race improved in some ways that are difficult to reverse.

But on the second goal, ending the war, we failed miserably. To us, Johnson’s pursuit of the war was so abhorrent that his civil rights record didn’t matter. I vividly remember the chants: “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”—sound familiar? One evening in March 1968, he announced an end to the bombing if North Vietnam and also his refusal to run for re-election in November. Success, right? Wrong. The ground war continued and our protests escalated until the Democratic National Convention in Chicago was so disrupted by activists that the police reacted brutally (sound familiar?). Richard Nixon ran for president and won, on a law and order platform and a promise to wind down the war.

He kept the first promise but not the second. The war ran on into the 1970s despite ongoing protests. Not only that, but the Republicans held the White House—with a four-year weak  interruption by Jimmy Carter—from 1969 to 1993. The voters were sick of our antics and they stayed sick of them for a very long time. So, looking back more broadly on the results of our efforts, I have to say it’s a mixed bag.

Are you planning to mount a disruptive assault on the Democratic Convention this August— which will be held in Chicago for only the second time since 1968? Or to put the question another way: are you planning to re-elect Donald Trump and bring about an end to our democracy, which is what he has promised to do?

In the meantime, may I give you some marketing advice regarding your current national sweep? You have already cancelled some graduation ceremonies. One of these is the University of Southern California, which would have celebrated with some dignity the completion of studies of some 18,000 students from undergraduate and graduate schools.

The undergraduates and many of the graduate students had their high school or college graduations cancelled by Covid. Now they are having their next big milestone in life cancelled by you. But it won’t be just those 18,000 who will be angry at you. Each will have wanted to bring two or three family members, so let’s call it conservatively 50,000 people whose hopes for a wonderful life moment you have trashed—at USC alone.

I know you are trying to do the same at scores of other universities, not all as large as USC but all cherished by their soon-to-be graduates. And the graduations you can’t cancel you will try to spoil in one way or another, using your right to free speech to sully the dreams of millions. Ah, but you are influencers! Surely your righteous efforts will win many friends among them, even though only a fraction supported your cause before you trashed this time of their lives, a time of joy now tainted by your fury.

Even if you can convince some of them to believe your lies about Israel and Gaza, the vast majority will never forgive you for ruining their commemorations. And what do you suppose the hundreds of millions of regular folks who are watching you on television will think?

So good luck turning your darling collections of tents into a mass movement. Enjoy the camp-outs while you can, don’t forget the marshmallows, and don’t be surprised when your cause completely fails.

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