Dear Parents, Teachers, Caregivers, and Other Grownups,
Congratulations! You have a passionate kid who cares enough about their world to stand up for what they believe in!
I am guessing this means you brought them up to be aware of the greater world around them, to pay attention to societal changes, to take a stand when they see something is wrong, to use their voices and bodies as agents of change, and to look beyond themselves and consider the community as a whole. I bet from the time they were little, you taught them to speak up—bravely, strongly, respectfully, and kindly. I am guessing you stooped down and looked them in the eyes and helped them find the words when the feelings in their little hearts were too strong for them. I bet you told them stories of other brave humans who stood up for what the believed in, whether they were religious figures, politicians, humanitarians, scientists, teachers, or the kind person who lived down the street.
Since they were small, we have told them, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” (Arleen Lorrance, actually, and not Ghandi.) We have told them, “Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” (Maggie Kuhn) We have told them, “A little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6) We have, as a popular Tumblr post says, raised them on a diet of young adult protagonists and dystopian novels where kids save the world. They are Meg. They are Katniss. They are Gavroche. They are Jonas.
So we shouldn’t be surprised that they’re rising up.
It’s scary as hell though, right? Early this morning, my 16-year-old daughter boarded a bus to go to DC. She is standing up for her right to feel safe in her own school. She is standing up for the children who have been killed by guns in school. She looks at her own brother and sister, seven-year-old twins, and thinks of the Sandy Hook first graders who were gunned down. She and her friends walked out of school, and were ridiculed by strangers and threatened with punishment. She has listened to her siblings’ fears about being safe. She has told me her own worries.
What can we do then?
We need to stay out of the way.
It’s tempting to push our way into the student-led rebellion and sanitize it and attempt to make it safe. I understand the impulse, because I wanted to do the same thing. But we need to stand back. We need to let them speak, sing, chant, and march. We need to love them and support them and be there when they need us, whether it’s driving them to where they need to go or buying them supplies or food or giving them a hug and listening when they are overwhelmed. We need to remind them that standing up for change can have consequences, and that change never happens easily. We need to find a balance between being there and staying out of the way.
Over the last few weeks, I look at photos from other protests and movements. I have sought out interviews with Ruby Bridges’ mama where she shares how she felt when her little girl dressed up in her best and walked bravely into that school. I look at the pictures of the young people sitting at Woolworth’s counters, surrounded by angry faces, and I wonder how their parents said goodbye when they left the house in the morning, and how they greeted them when they came back home. I look at the brave students from Parkland who stand up and speak calmly and coherently and logically while grown adults hurl epithets and insults and accusations at them. I think of how terrified their parents must feel to have had their children avoid being shot at school only to see them put themselves back in the line of fire again. And again. And again.
Our children are now part of a long legacy of young people standing up for what is right. And while we want to impose out adult concerns on this movement– Will it “work”? Is it safe? Are they following all the rules?— I believe it is important to stand back, take a breath, and think of it more in terms of a beginning. Their opinions are continuing to be formed and their ideas are shaped day by day, but they know certain things, things that we taught them they have a right to—to be safe, to be treated fairly, and to be listened to.