Waking up the children... and us!
February 14, 2020
I do believe we woke up the children. You think the Flower Children of the 1960s were revolutionary? Just wait!
Full confession. Outside of wearing bell-bottom pants and trying marijuana once, I was not a flower child. My first vote for a president was in 1968, and I voted for Nixon. When fellow friends and professors marched against the Vietnam War after Kent State, I joined in. But during that entire day, I was more scared than passionate. Looking back, I wish I had done more. Been more. But it was not who I was at the time.
I wasn’t much of an activist in the following years. Despite my friends’ urging, I didn’t vote for the Equal Rights Amendment. I laughed it off with a popular excuse at the time: I like men holding doors open for me. And I decided that Nixon was guilty later than most of my friends, not believing that the president of our country could be involved in such a cover-up.
I still am not an organizer or a marcher. I attended Women’s March in Orlando, armed with great signs and more passion. When one of the speakers began lambasting the Israeli occupation of Palestine, however, I vowed never to go to another event held by that group. I have passed up other opportunities for public protests, including those organized to support immigrants and decry gun violence.
That is why I am so in awe of the recent rise of our youth, specifically the March For Our Lives organizers and Time Magazine’s Person of the Year Greta Thunberg.
Parkland, Florida, the sight of the Margaret Stoneman Douglas High School shootings, is less than 200 miles from us. Like the rest of the country, I followed the news with fear and anger. Would this be another instance where victims and survivors were offered “thoughts and prayers” but no change in the lax gun laws that precipitated this event? Would anyone stand up to the National Rifle Association and the many politicians who not only accepted their money but also bowed to their demands?
The answer was a resounding yes. The leaders of the grassroots movement were not adults, but MSD students who survived the shooting that killed 18 people, including the friends of the organizers. Their reaction was immediate. David Hogg, a senior and the news director for the school’s news station, channeled his fury while in lockdown by taking notes and interviewing fellow students huddled around him. Less than 10 hours later, he handed his footage to Laura Ingraham on her prime-time Fox news show. Bristling at Ingraham’s platitudinous, (“Our emotions are with you,”) anger spilled out. “I don’t want this to be another mass shooting... something that people forget.” And in what would be the first call to action, Hogg stated the need “to go to your congressmen.”
On March 24, 2018, less than seven weeks after the shooting, March for Our Lives, a student-led demonstration in support of legislation to prevent gun violence in the United States took place in Washington, D.C., with over 880 sibling events throughout the United States and the world. Turn out was estimated to be between 1.2 and 2 million, making it one of the largest protests in American history.
While MFOL was organizing against gun violence in the United States, a 15-year-girl in Sweden was watching and wondering if she could possibly do the same to save the planet. Thunberg was 11 years old when her primary-school teacher showed a video on the effects of a warming world. That event, initially causing her an “endless sadness,” inspired her to start a one-girl campaign to pressure the Swedish government to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
On Aug. 20, 2018, Thunberg settled in a spot across the street of the Swedish parliament building. She was armed with a sign that read “Student Strike for the climate” and a flyer that explained her purpose. It included the admonition: “Since you adults don’t give a damn about my future, I won’t either.”
She sat alone on Day One. But a person joined her on Day Two, and a few others on Day Three and so on. By September she had enough support to limit her strike, which she named Friday’s for Future, to one day a week. By the end of the year, she had been joined by tens of thousands of students across Europe. By fall 2019, Thunberg had been joined by millions across the world.
In her speech in front of the UN General Assembly in September 2019, Thunberg, like David Hoggs before her, expressed her anger and disgust. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth,” she stated. “How dare you!” Her wish to follow in the footsteps of the activists from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School had been realized.
In this past year, what Time called “the power of youth” protests spread to include Hong Kong, Iraq, and Lebanon. And November elections in Virginia, in which Democrats took control of both houses, was propelled by a “younger, more diverse and more liberal” Democrat base that supported gun control, women’s rights and clean energy.
“Adults didn’t take care of these problems, said then 17-year-old Jaclyn Corin, the chief organizer of Washington, D.C., event, “so we have to take care of them.”
As an adult who feels strongly that the need for Tikkun Olam, leaving the world a better place, I believe that the battles for which the youth are fighting should also be taken up by all of us. Maybe it is time for those who were flower children, or flower children fails, need to get on board. Abraham Joshua Heschel, reflecting on his participation in the 20th century civil rights movement, stated, “When I marched in Selma my feet were praying.”
I am no longer the young girl who stood on the sidelines. Like many of today’s youth, I am passionate about issues that impact all of us: Gun violence. Climate Change. Immigration policies. Women’s rights. As we head to the Nov. 3, 2020, elections, I will be calling my legislators, writing my columns and letters to the editors, and joining people of all ages to effect change. And who knows? Maybe, like Greta and Dave and Jaclyn and Rabbi Heschel, I will start praying with my feet.
The youth have taken the lead. It is our responsibility to them to follow.
Marilyn Cohen Shapiro, a resident of Kissimmee, Fla., is a regular contributor to the (Capital Region N.Y.) Jewish World and the Orlando Heritage Florida Jewish News.