So what were you doing when you were 8 years old? I was playing with Barbies, riding my bike and fighting with my mother about not letting me have long hair. Did I even know what was going on outside of my household or school? In my town? Maybe, but I doubt it. Certainly not in the country. I watched cartoons, not the news.
It was a different time. I was 8 years old in 1970. I had a vague idea about a war somewhere that people weren’t happy about, but I didn’t know where it was or what it was about, really. I also knew my parents didn’t like the President, but that didn’t seem to matter that much to me on a day-to-day basis, either – certainly not as much as the spelling test I had on Friday or the characters in the book I was completely immersed in at any given time.
Like Mae pictured above, I was smart and a good student. I loved school. I liked to write poetry and stories. (I knew the difference between “less” and “fewer.”) My friends and I played hopscotch and jumped rope outside. We didn’t have phones or computers. We played Kick the Can and Red Rover. I thought a lot about what it would be like to be an adult. I wondered about sex and fantasized about having a boyfriend someday. I worshiped high school girls.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to be an 8 year old now. They are aware of so much more than I was at that age. They have to deal with so much more. I feared nuclear war, but it didn’t even occur to me that I might not be safe at school – that someone could, or would even want to, come in my school and shoot me or my friends and teachers.
Was I naive? Was I sheltered? Yes, probably, but no more than most other white kids living in a small town at that time, and maybe some black kids, too. I get now it was harder for people of color and women then – for anyone who was not white and male and straight really – but I didn’t know that then. I’m sure life in the inner cities was not as sedate as the one I experienced in the Midwest, either, but none of that registered with me then. I was pretty happily clueless about the world outside of my immediate realm.
Kids don’t get to be clueless now. The whole world comes at them day and night on TV and the internet. 24/7 panic over something somewhere. But here’s the amazing thing about these kids: they haven’t been desensitized or paralyzed by fear. They seem to feel empowered. They are smart and creative, and brave.
They are rising to the challenge of living in this frightening world. Literally. The kids who marched this weekend have risen up and said to all of us and to our elected officials, “Enough.” They should be home doing homework and going to the prom this spring. What they’re doing instead is schooling us. They are taking charge because the adults aren’t.
I haven’t felt this hopeful in a long time. I hate to see the way they’ve been vilified on the internet, but it doesn’t seem to phase them. They are doing what needs to be done, saying what needs to be said, and they don’t seem to mind that some people think they don’t have the right.
Of course they have the right. If they are old enough to be killed in cold blood, they certainly have the right to express how that makes them feel. And soon they will have the right to vote. Marching is awesome and inspiring, but voting is what ultimately matters. They are working within the system to effect change. That is the heart of democracy. While our President is in Florida playing golf and his clueless cronies are cuddling up to the NRA, these kids are changing our country.
And they’re leading all the other folks who have been overlooked for too long: people of color, women, gay and trans people. But this isn’t about money or politics. It’s not about Democrats or Republicans. It’s not about religion or race, straight or gay or other. It’s simply about our human community and the way we have a right to live.
God bless those beautiful kids for the gift they’re giving us: HOPE. They are standing up so that we may all rise. I’m so proud of all of them, and I have hope for the future in a way I haven’t for a long time. They are giving us back our country. Wrenching it right out of the hands of the adults who have allowed it to get so off track by greed, self-interest and short-sightedness. They are standing up for the future – for their future, and saying to the rest of us, “You’re not doing it right. Do better.”
So we have been called out, folks. How will we respond?