Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Listen to the Children

I took my oldest two daughters, age 13 and 12 years old, to the March for our Lives in Washington DC on Saturday, March 24th. It was an amazingly powerful event for all three of us. There hasn’t been a day since that I haven’t thought about the students that spoke and their powerful stories and words. Every time I sat down to edit this post I got emotional thinking about that day.

This is not a political post this is a human post. I am not a vocal person politically. I have never gone to a rally, march or protest before this March. I am ashamed to say that unless it is happening at my kitchen table I may not know it is going on. These shootings that have become common place are affecting all of our families. Gun violence does not discriminate based on political parties it affects us all. After each of the school shootings I have felt so helpless to make a difference and to voice my request for change. Our hearts have broken with each life that has been lost. As a mother I want to protect my children and all children. Every victim of gun violence is someone's baby. After the Parkland shootings I cried and felt outrage, but I still didn’t know how I could help. As soon as I heard about the March I wanted to go, but with 9 kids nothing is easy. I was on the fence about it till the day before, I talked with my husband and he said I really want you three to go, we’ll figure out the logistics. Both of us feel really strongly about protecting all lives with more common sense gun laws. My oldest daughter was really excited we were going. She had participated in two student led walk outs at her secondary school in remembrance of the Parkland students. She immediately set to work making beautiful posters and ribbons for us to wear. My 11 year old was a little quieter about it. She asked lots of questions about logistics and how big the crowds would be and if we would be safe. That right there is their two personalities in a nutshell. 

There was a group of students and parents going from my daughter’s school that we had planned to meet up with. We got up bright and early and headed to the closest Metro station. At the station we were greeted by a group of students all carrying posters and wearing orange. You could feel the excitement and purpose in the group. Once we arrived in DC our group walked to the National Mall and to a meeting point. We met up with other local schools and we were greeted by our local representatives who talked to the students about the change they hope to see happen with gun laws. 

We then found our space in the crowd and waited for the March to start. It was overwhelming how many people were there - students, families, all races and ages. It was a beautiful sight. We spent all morning just looking at all the different signs and shirts.

Once the program started we were all mesmerized. Each student that spoke was so awesome and powerful. Topics that I stumble and stutter over they spoke so eloquently and full of passion. Their stories were heartbreaking. We were standing next to several families from Florida. They were in the same school district as MSD and had cancelled their spring break plans so they could attend. Two girls in front of us were recent graduates from MSD. They knew these students speaking, they knew their families. We all cried together, cheered together and sang together. The pleas and cries for change from the students and the crowd, makes me hopeful that change will come. When the March was done, everyone respectfully filed out together. As we were leaving a person started the chant, “tell me what democracy looks like” and the answer back was, “this is what democracy looks like”. There were almost a million people at the March all peacefully coming together asking for a change.

I asked my daughters and several friends that attended the March in DC and in New York to share their thoughts from that day.

"The March was empowering and inspirational. All the students that spoke were amazing but the three that really spoke to me were Edna Chavez, Emma Gonzalez and Yolanda Renee King. Edna Chavez's speech showed me that gun violence is not a new problem. Yolanda Renee King's speech showed me that that youth of our country are stepping up to change things. Our generation is going to be a great generation."           KB, age 12

"The energy is what made the environment boom, vibrant signs and people shouting made Pennsylvania Avenue light up. We were all there for the same reason, and for that it felt as if we were gathering with family. There were people from all over the country flying and driving in to make their voices heard. The most heart stopping moment was when D'Angelo McDade asked everyone who has been impacted by gun violence to raise their hands. Hands all around me were raised high. I am lucky enough to not have any encounters with guns or gun violence. The March made me realize how privileged I am."   

                                                                                                            SB, age 13

“Immediately after the shooting on February 14th at Marjory Douglas High School, the Parkland high school students took America by storm. As soon as I heard that they were organizing the March for Our Lives I knew I had to attend. Luckily, a generous network of alumni organized two buses to make the treck down from my school in Vermont. After spending weeks leading up to the March as a student leader in the efforts towards gun control reform in my community, I was excited to talk with other students around the country on what they were doing in their hometowns. I heard stories, similar to my own, of students organizing walkouts, lobbying legislators, and having discussions at their highs schools. Right off the bat, I was amazed to see the turnout. I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of numbers, but after seeing photos of Pennsylvania Avenue packed with marchers I was in awe. I was lucky enough to be right by the stage. From start to finish the program they had arranged had me on an emotional rollercoaster. One minute I was in tears and the next I had a smile from ear-to-ear. The level of eloquence each speaker had — despite their age — was outstanding and as I rewatch the videos on Facebook I still get goosebumps each time. 
Although Emma Gonzalez took my breathe away with her speech and Yolanda Renee King and Naomi Wadler restored my faith in young people, the speech that resonated with me the most was delivered by Cameron Kasky. He said, "the march is not the climax of this movement, it is the beginning". So many critics believe that this March is the end of our fight, but this generation will stop at nothing to rid this nation of the vicious cycle of mass shootings we have fallen into. The underlying message of this March was to educate yourself, use your voice, and vote. As a seventeen-year-old eager to get into the polling stations I could not have been more pleased with their emphasis on this as voting is how we can be the change we want to see in our country. Let's vote them out! “     
                                                                                             Cecilia - High School Senior

“I was blown away by the effort that must have gone into organizing this event - as a teacher I was inspired to see teenagers—students no different than my own apart from the tragedy they experienced firsthand—take on an event of this magnitude. And it was amazing! And yet as a mom I was saddened because here were kids so boldly standing up to adults begging for protection and safety that adults had failed to provide. We shouldn’t have to rely on kids to spread this message; they should be relying on us.
One of the most heartwarming and heartbreaking parts of the afternoon was seeing how the Parkland students had reached out to student leaders from other communities afflicted by gun violence. Living in the community we live in makes it easy to forget that we are comfortably safe—our kids don’t need to feel fear leaving their homes. The Parkland students reminded everyone that gun violence is more than just the school shootings that make national news - it’s also the shootings that minority communities experience on a much too regular basis.”                  Katy, Mom of 3

“I am generally very quiet when it comes to voicing my political views. Usually I can see and appreciate both sides of the fence on any matter, but changing these antiquated gun laws doesn’t seem to me an issue that can be reasonably justified without some significant change in policy. I have never marched or protested anything, but when I read the sign at the March, "It is so bad, even the introverts are here”, I thoughts, “yes, that’s me”! I hate making a racket, but please, please do something so we can better protect our children and put them on the school bus each day without this horrific fear in the back of our minds. Enough is enough.”                     Kara, Mom of 3

In the face of the issues of gun violence and legislation, I have often felt small, disconnected and powerless. Walking east across 86th Street to join the March south along Central Park West, I could feel the energy and see the crowd gathered - thousands of people, each each one the embodiment of a voice and a vote and a frustration with the status quo. Each person chose that morning to walk the city blocks, to make signs, to stand in the sun, to bring their kids/their friends/themselves. The March in New York City was just one part of a global chorus - connected and powerful. I was proud to add my voice and say enough.                     Kristin, Mom of 2 

For me, the March was not about politics. It was about teaching my kids valuable life lessons. If you feel strongly about something, stand up for it. If you see an injustice, stand up to it. If you want change, lend your voice to it, and if possible in person. I wanted my kids to see that regardless of age and socioeconomic background that we all have a voice that we need to use. As a mother I was so proud of the students who organized and spoke at the March. I am so honored that I could take my two oldest daughters and that they could see and hear first hand these students stories and their call to action. Two of the signs that I saw that really stuck with me, were “When our children are acting like leaders and our leaders are acting like children, it is time for a change” and “Teach your parents well”. My hope is that in the not to distant future I will be talking to my kids about all the good change that has happened.

The children have spoken and I am listening, are you?

This is original artwork by my oldest daughter. She drew it the night after the March. It says it all.

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