Yesterday was a wonderful day for the future of the United States of America. Teenagers across the country walked out of their classrooms to protest the gun violence that has become all too common in American schools. They also walked out to honor the 17 people that were killed last month at Stoneham Douglass High School in Parkland, Florida. The walkouts showed that collective action is alive and well with Generation Z and it made me seriously optimistic, for the first time in a while, about the future. Before I go on, though, I would like to say that the Black Lives Matter movement has had teens involved from the beginning. Yesterday showed the collective will of teens across a diverse spectrum of humans across this country, which was heartening, but we have to give it up for the teens in the BLM movement that have been showing up for many years now to protest violence against communities of color by the police. If you are looking for inclusiveness and action, look no further than this movement (https://blacklivesmatter.com/about.)
When I was a teenager, I was not civically engaged. In fact, I did not get politically motivated until I was well into college and had experiences that changed me. The first rally I attended was in undergrad and the reason I decided to go was that I thought Ani Difranco was going to perform. Yes, I realize that makes me sound selfish, but that’s how I was as a teenager. I guess it was good that Ani was listed as a performer, though, because that first rally really changed my perspective about what can be done when people get together to make change happen through collective action and civic engagement. Although Ani didn’t play, and in fact, she didn’t even attend, that ‘Take Back the Night’ rally opened my eyes to the struggles that women on my college campus were facing. It was one of the first ‘me too’ moments that I encountered and I was already 19 years old. I guess that I should feel lucky to say that, but it also makes me kind of sad.
In my senior year, when I was 16, there was a tragedy that occurred at my high school. A teenager who had recently transferred from Niagara Falls High School to Lasalle Senior (LSHS) was crossing the street to meet her mother after school. The front of LSHS faced a very busy road (Military) and there were no crosswalks. As she was walking across the street, one of the students came barreling out of the student parking lot and hit her. She was killed on contact and there were several student witnesses. It was a horrific accident that sparked a student movement. A week later there was a walk out and the students walked from Military Road to Main Street (5.5 miles) to assemble for action in front of City Hall. The students demanded a stoplight and crosswalk in front of the school and shortly thereafter a light was installed. This was protest in action and I was not involved. I was sad about the death of a classmate, but I wasn’t engaged enough in politics to actually participate in this action.
Looking back on it now I can’t quite fathom why I decided not to walk out. After all, I was raised by a family of union workers. My Papa and my mother both worked for the New York Power Authority My Nana had worked in the steel factory during WWII. My dad worked at Carborundum and then later for the Carpenter’s union, where his father had also worked. My uncle worked at Nabisco. Having so many union members in my family, you would think that I would have been on top of any peaceful protest and collective action that came my way, but I just wasn’t. My teenage apathy overrode my desire to assemble and I regret that each time I think about it.
Having lived through that time and saying quite certainly that most of my peers in the 90’s were also apathetic, I’m happy to see that teenagers today are not. They are engaged and enlightened. They understand how to keep the light shining on a topic of concern and to feed the flames of social media to continue to overcome the daily news cycle churn effect. They are adept at working with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to get their message out and they have resilience. They will continue to fight for themselves and future generations because they know it is important. Guns are a scourge on our nation and with an activated young citizenship, we might just be able to move away from the violence that has come from complacency. A shift in the conversation around guns has started, again, and if these teens can keep the heat on, they might just make a real and lasting change. We, as adults, need to let them do their thing and be there to support them. We need to stand by them and move forward together as a nation to a better day.
Yesterday was a wonderful day for the United States of America and, with enough protest and pressure, all our tomorrows can be great as well. We just have to continue the civil disobedience and make a better nation for ALL.
Peace and happy marching!