I have had just about enough of people saying the 16 to 18-year-old students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida are being used by their elders for an agenda they don’t understand. It’s insulting to teenagers everywhere, and it’s insulting to yourself if you make that argument.
Why? Because when you were 16, 17, and 18, you didn’t do a damned thing unless you wanted to. I’m guessing that sometimes you even refused to do what you did want just because some adult liked the idea. Remember?
Sure, you might have grudgingly gone to church when you’d rather have slept in, or you grudgingly went to dinner at Grandma’s when you would have preferred to be with your friends, but when something really mattered to you, didn’t you stand your ground? Didn’t you push back against the adults who tried to force you?
I keep seeing the argument that these kids are far too organized to have done it by themselves, and know the talking points far too well. Let’s think about that.
Maybe – just maybe – those kids know the talking points because they are the same talking points that get trotted out whenever there is a mass shooting. These kids have lived with the horror of large-scale carnage their entire lives. They have heard the talking points and they have seen how nothing gets resolved because the politicians – the adults who actually have the power and ability to change the law – have said after every incident that “this isn’t the time to talk about it.”
And every time these kids and others just like them have buried their friends and noticed that these emperor politicians wear no clothes.
Rick Santorum’s statements that “these kids aren’t really doing anything” by speaking out and marching is one more example of a naked emperor. They are doing exactly what they CAN do. They are demanding that lawmakers take action. They aren’t old enough to be elected to office yet. When they are, watch out – they will be. And they will be the agents of the long-overdue change they demand.
And maybe – just maybe – they have had help from adults getting organized. Adults who care about the same things those kids care about: that bodies stop dropping to assault weapons, that reasonable gun laws be enacted and enforced, and that politicians who sell children for $1.05 to the NRA answer for how cheaply they value life – not to mention answering for the fact that they have sold their integrity for power.
Maybe – just maybe – those adults and even (gasp!) the kids themselves recognized that the adults weren’t the best faces for the TV interviews and to speak at the rally. Why? Because overwhelmingly, KIDS die in these mass shootings at their schools. The KIDS are righteously outraged that adults with the power to have prevented this carnage have failed to do so time and time and time again. That these adults smile smugly and say that they won’t stop selling the lives of children to the gun lobby because, you know, they NEED that blood money.
At least two adults refused to lend their notoriety to the Parkland kids because they felt the kids themselves were absolutely the best spokespeople for this travesty. Look up what George and Amal Clooney said to them. Never has “no” been said with so much love and respect and admiration.
And what do these kids think they can do, anyway? What possible examples in history can they look at to think they can effect change? Let’s consider that.
Guess how old Joan of Arc was when she led the French army to victory against the English. She was 17 at the Battle of Orleans and had already been fighting for three years – in a leadership role. A 13-year-old girl had made adults not just listen, but let her lead them into battle. She had something to say, she said it, she got the attention of the people who needed to hear it, she said it again, and she took the action she could take. She was just 18 when the British captured her and barely 19 when they burned her as a witch – a witch who dared to speak her truth to their power.
How old was Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de LaFayette, when he came to America to help with the Revolution? Well, at 13 he was commissioned an officer in the French army. He was a major-general in the American Revolution at 19. And that, of course, was just the beginning. By Yorktown in 1781, he was confirmed beyond any doubt as a serious and able leader, and he was still only 26.
How about Alexander Hamilton? This brilliant guy was the same age as Lafayette and was one of his best friends during the six years of the Revolution. But even before the Revolution, he ran a major shipping company from the West Indies – at the age of 14. He designed the American economic structure before the age of 30. But when he was just a 17-year-old kid and wrote that famous essay that got him a one-way ticket to New York, he was already cognizant of horrific truths like the evils of slavery and the despair of poverty – truths that he championed the rest of his too-short life.
Oh, but these guys were “special.” We shouldn’t consider them. OK, let’s look for less stellar examples.
We don’t have to look far. Lots of them can be found right there in the Revolution.
James Monroe was 18 in 1776. He was a farmer. Two years before the Revolution – at the age of 16 – he and his school friends stormed the Virginia governor’s palace to seize arms for the Virginia militia. Do they want to argue that he was misled by his elders who had some nefarious plan in mind and wouldn’t have done it without their influence?
How about Nathan Hale, who was hanged by the British as a spy at 21? He was the same age as Lafayette and Hamilton and went on his first major spying mission at the age of 17. That’s right, he was the same age as those kids at Parkland when he snuck behind British lines and gathered serious intelligence for Washington. He was so unaware of what was really going on that he regretted having but one life to give for his country. But he probably didn’t really have a clue, you know?
Let’s talk about Sybil Luddington.This 16-year-old girl’s efforts dwarfed Paul Revere’s 14-mile trip to warn of the British invasion. She rode all night long, for 40 miles, to alert the militias that the Redcoats Were Coming. She just didn’t get a poem – and damn it, she deserved one. Is anyone seriously going to argue that, because of her tender years, she did not really know what she was doing or why she was doing it?
Do you know why the rebelling colonists won that war, against impossible odds and against the superpower of the day? Because KIDS thought it was important and DID SOMETHING ABOUT IT. They couldn’t remake the laws, so they made a country.
And don’t let me get started on the Civil Rights Movement or Vietnam, and the hugely important major role played by CHILDREN – people not old enough to vote, to drink alcohol or buy cigarettes, or to hold office. I’ll rant on about things like Kent State and the Freedom Riders and the Little Rock desegregation crisis, and the kids that made things happen and changed the world.
Never try to argue that teenagers aren’t perfectly capable of recognizing a problem and taking action when it matters enough to them right there in that moment.
Because I will call B.S.