A lovely day for a rally, blue skies, temps climbing into the 50s, everything’s coming up roses (well, eventually), the weather tipping us, perhaps, finally, into spring itself, and our kids letting it be known they’re not going away, tipping us, perhaps, finally, into change itself. Rallying our flagging spirits.
Middle-school kids, 14 and under, organizing this public plea to reduce gun violence, an event with style, substance, serious intent. Not a protest or walkout, more of a demonstration. Adults on hand to show support, but kids definitely running the show.
They chose the setting well, Scoville Park greening nicely after a cold, wet week, a shallow natural amphitheater, the village’s front lawn. The kids decided against a march, decided instead on stations circling the park’s gentle slope, at the top of which James Scoville once stood in the 19th century, surveying the surrounding countryside and determined it just the place to build his home. Oak Park ensued.
At the long table near the entry at Oak Park Avenue and Lake Street, you could sign a “guest banner” to record your presence, and then a petition for state Sen. Don Harmon, who was on hand to receive it, some 500 signatures strong.
Orange was the color of the day, the color hunters use, I’m told, to signal “Don’t shoot.” Orange ribbons available for those, like me, with orange-poor wardrobes. Orange was also the official color of this village for many years, back when we had a handgun ban, noted former village clerk Terri Powell, who says too many Oak Parkers don’t know that voters resoundingly approved the prohibition in a referendum in 1984. For many years, a source of village pride.
At two other stations, students kneel to fill out postcards or write letters. The names and addresses of local representatives are provided, as is the mailing address of one Wayne LaPierre of NRA of America, 11250 Waples Road, Fairfax, Virginia 22030 — just in case you’d like to add to the barrage. “Be respectful,” cautions one of the parents, “so they take you seriously.” Orange postcards, messaged “We are with you,” are destined for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, Columbine High School in Colorado, or Great Mills High School in Maryland, the site of the latest school shooting.
In one alcove, “opinion” poster boards are loosely taped to trees, prompting responses on pastel post-it notes, pasted on. “I Want …” elicits “The NRA to value kids more than guns,” “To feel safe in my school,” “To end gun violence,” and a host of similar sentiments. “I Use My Voice Because …” engenders “To be silent is deadly,” “Others don’t have that chance anymore,” and “I should. Everyone should” among myriad others.
Stat graphics line the table at the park entrance: On an average day, 96 Americans killed with guns; On average, 13,000 gun homicides each year in the U.S.; On average each month, 50 women shot to death by intimate partners in the U.S.; For every person killed in the U.S., two more injured; Seven children and teens killed with guns in the U.S. on an average day; Black men 13 times more likely than white men to be shot and killed by guns.
These kids have been doing their homework.
The organizers, a group of 14-year-old girls turn on the mic and call for 13 minutes of silence for the victims of the massacre at Columbine High School, 19 years ago this day. “Since those 13 have been silenced forever,” says one, “the least we can do is be silent for 13 minutes.” All wear T-shirts that read “Protect People, Not Guns” and with each name of a victim read aloud, an orange balloon is released into the air. A light breeze blows several into the trees behind the stage, but, defying the odds, they work their way through the dense mesh of budding branches and find release. Metaphors aplenty here for those seeking them.
Speeches follow, eloquent beyond their years. It’s tough being endangered and then ignored by our leaders, says one, “when all we’ve ever wanted to do was matter.”
“Why do children have to be the adults?” ponders another.
“When we go to school,” says a third, “we shouldn’t have to wonder if it will be the last time we see our families.”
Another notes how much has changed since Columbine in 1999, “but you can still walk up and buy an assault rifle.”
The longest line of the day is for the Domino’s pizza when it arrives. One of the servers dishes, “Here you go, here you go, I love your eyebrows, here you go.”
Celine Woznica of Moms Demand Action holds up a sign that reads “Keep Going, It’s Working!”
“Not one organizer over the age of 14,” she marvels, “and the parents stepped back.”
In fact, the only helicopter hovering is, well, the helicopter circling overhead, no doubt from one of the news channels.
Woznica praises the Julian principal who recognized “the passion and commitment of middle schoolers — and let this happen.” She turns to a group of kids and says, “You guys have changed this whole movement. We’re so proud of you.”
They have changed the conversation. Focused it. Liberated it. They’re saying things adults stopped saying because we stopped believing change was possible. It was these kids who stepped up and helped us believe again. They’re not going away and neither are we.
High-schoolers showed us how, but middle-schoolers are fast learners. You couldn’t ask for a better educational experience than organizing an event like this and they did one hell of a job.
An A+ for sure.
Not a protest. Not a walkout. A demonstration — of grace, intelligence, values correctly placed. It’s really good to be around kids like this. Hey, as parents, grandparents and educators, we didn’t do everything right, but we did a lot of things right.
It’s working. Keep going indeed.
And in deed.