National School Walkout Day
I cried when I heard about the lockdown drills held in my granddaughter’s kindergarten class, picturing these sweet five year olds crowding behind the teacher’s desk to take cover. How much they understand, how sensitive to fear, is as individual as everything else in a classroom of 20. For some it’s as remote and abstract as the “duck and cover” drills were for me in elementary school in the ’50s, crawling under my desk so that nuclear fallout wouldn’t take me down.
In the world of my making, I prefer the innocence of children who act out fantasies of fairies and witches, orphans and magicians, play that helps them understand and deal with their childhood fears, and the world of adults. My children were privileged to spend much of their early years doing just that. They were able to face their demons head on, evildoers who were soon thwarted and overcome by the brave, strong, and smart children.
Modern children live in a different world, where both intentional and random violence is more of a sad reality, closer to home, lurking somewhere, possibly in your own neighborhood, your school, where you shop, where you see movies. These children don’t walk to school alone, they rarely bike around the neighborhood, they certainly aren’t out playing in the streets.
We tell ourselves, and teach our children, to cower and hide, immobilized by fear. We’re afraid of evil. We’re afraid of shooters. We’re afraid of foreigners, or people of a different color or religion, we’re afraid of Russians, of Iraqis, of nuclear holocaust, of climate change, of deforestation, of the declining fabric of our society and our communities, we’re afraid of named and unnamed threats to our way of life.
This is how draconian laws and political leaders win the day, saying they have answers to our fears, that they know how to put our country and our cities first, that if we just sit down and shut up and let them do the hard thinking, and build walls to keep evil out – then we’ll be safe.
But like Rapunzel in the witch’s castle, we’re growing weary of the lack of change, and are looking for ways to get out of this mess, and ways to help ourselves, and to help others.
Today’s five year olds are not as innocent and sheltered as I, or my children were. I don’t like that children need to be shot at in order to become activists. But children faced with these bare realities are more motivated to do something about a world gone mad. This has certainly happened at Parkland, where the combination of tragedy, a strong educational background in politics and history, the privilege of growing up feeling their own power, along with social media finesse, have armed children for the fight of their lives. And they seem to be taking a good part of the country with them.
My daughter was first unhappy and unsure about having to talk with my granddaughter about today’s walk outs and about the various shootings around the country, and about the fear that so many people – mostly other people – live with on a daily basis. She didn’t want to lecture her child about being afraid, and about cowering behind teachers’ desks in order to stay safe. Then the school gave out pointers about how to talk about today’s march, and why it was being organized for such small and unsophisticated humans, and she was able to re-frame the conversation in a way that was empowering for both of them. They talked about ways to be kind to others, what makes her feel safe, and about nonviolent direct action, because they can understand that. She could say that it isn’t okay to have to practice like this, and that all over the country people are marching because they feel everyone should be safe every day.
The lesson turned from defense to offense – here is how we can take back our power, here is what people are doing to create a safer environment. Today we march, today we protest, today we elect people who we hope will make changes, and not just promise to protect us with walls or get rid of people who are different.
Here’s something my daughter wrote: “In general I’m not one for preserving innocence for the sake of innocence. The ability to feel safe in their home and school and neighborhood is not something all children get, and I want my children to know that they are safe, to know that all children deserve to feel safe, and to believe that every single one of us has a responsibility to work towards a world where all children feel safe. I think that part of the trauma of lockdown drills are that they teach children that the best way to be safe is to make themselves as small and invisible as possible… with the implication that any opinions and actions that make you noticeable are dangerous. Instead, with this march and the discussions teachers are being asked to have around it, her school is asking Rosa to learn that she is a change-maker, that her actions impact not only her friends and family but her community and the world.”
Call me a bleeding heart liberal, but I cried again as I saw the reports and photos of thousands and thousands of students who walked out of their schools today, whether they were supported or not; the ones that broke down locked gates to get to the walkout (in the Bay Area no less), the signs that said, “Less guns, more kids” or “As a black boy, I hope one I day I have as many rights as a gun.”
Instead of just looking for the helpers, as Mr. Rogers comforted us with, they/we are empowered by being the helpers.