This is What Democracy Looks Like
“Show us what democracy looks like!”
“This is what democracy looks like.”
The man behind me chanted the first line while those of us around him chanted the refrain, over and over until we were hoarse.
Two weeks ago, my daughter asked if I would take her to the March for our Lives in D.C. Of course, I said yes. I was there when she took her first steps, attended her first school, played her first sports. I took her to her first concert and I wanted to be there with her for her first peaceful protest. Need I even touch on the pride I feel at having a child who feels compelled to peacefully protest? A week and a half later, she and her friends decide to do the march in Lancaster rather than schlepp to D.C. Their class president was going to be speaking (he read a poem) as were some other kids they knew and it seemed like the better place to be, here at home in our own community where what we think and say and do may actually make a difference. Despite the shift in focus to something more teen-centric, I wasn’t left behind.
“But ask Sam’s mom to go so you won’t be the only mom,” Arianna said. It wouldn’t be the first time Lisa and I tag-teamed to bring our kids somewhere so that was cool, too. This past Saturday, March 24, 2018, we joined with thousands of others in downtown Lancaster to march for something that should automatically come with a social security card here in the States — a violence-free upbringing.
It was a picture perfect late-winter day, clear, calm and sunny. We gathered at Clipper Stadium on Prince Street and marched to Binn’s Park on Queen Street where we listened to speaker after speaker, many of whom were teens, give impassioned speeches about ending gun violence. We clapped, chanted, whistled, and, per usual, I got all vaklempt as I do when things of monumental importance occur in my presence. Best of all, we passed the baton to those who are willing to run with it, at least for now — our teenagers.
It is not without guidance, because what have we been doing if not guiding them all these years? It is not without support, because what have we been doing if not supporting them since they were born? It is not without knowledge for haven’t we been educating them since their first day? It is not without courage, because what parent would deliberately allow their child to enter the fray and not worry, on some level, that some insidious or explicit harm would not come to them. In fact, one of my primary reasons for going to the march was to keep my kid safe because what better time for some crazed gunman to enter the scene than a peaceful protest against gun violence on a sunny Saturday afternoon in a little town in Central Pennsylvania?
See how jaded life has made me when this is my first thought? I know I don’t only speak for myself when I say that the world has become a jangly place, like loose change falling from a hole in your pocket, hitting the ground and rolling every which way while you run, helter-skelter to catch it. Life here in the U.S. has been particularly jangly. Institutions that we have come to rely on to keep order are themselves in disarray. Public posts that have long been the bastion of propriety, leadership, and respect have devolved past the point of confusion and are now mired in chaos and a subtle (or maybe not so subtle) form of anarchy. And there are guns, lots of them, more than when the West was settled, and while the adults among us grapple with our institutions and each other to make sense of what is happening, we find ourselves slogging through a day, a week, a year, trying to get to work and back in one piece, praying that our kids get to school and home in the same one piece.
The question on everyone’s lips yesterday was, “Why do we have to?” Why isn’t this country with all of its resources a more peaceful, verdant place. Why does our government want to arm educators, who, as one sign put it, are teachers, not sharpshooters. And why does the NRA have so much control? They used to teach Boy Scouts gun safety. Now they lobby for gun manufacturer’s and want every teacher to carry. Arianna, who has witnessed how destructive classmates with anger issues can be asked how long I thought it would be until, in that scenario, a kid disarmed his teacher and shot up the room? This is what kids think about!
Yesterday’s march was organized by and for students — and the parents were welcome to go, too. It started after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre with the students in Parkland, Florida and has grown organically. Enough is enough, they said, banding together to make their voices heard not just in Florida, but across the nation. Every day, more teens join. Their voices may shake, but they’re going to speak their minds anyway. And while it’s not the first time teens have protested, it’s the first time I can recall their parents saying, “You know what? You’re right.”
Where we have failed, they will succeed. It feels like a great tsunami of hope is heading our way, and our kids are pulling us parents along with them, parents who weren’t apathetic, but who’ve been sandwiched too long between two demanding generations that still needed them — aging parents and their own growing children — parents who had very little time left to do much of anything that mattered to them.
It’s okay parents. You’ve taught your children well. It’s time to let these impassioned kids maybe not take over, but definitely set the pace. Social change starts with a change of heart. The mind then follows. Why not let the children lead for a while?
This is what democracy looks like.