Wissot: At March For Our Lives, kids ignited a revolution, but will adults go to battle? (column)
My eyes began to well. Tears began to form. Not a stream; more like a trickle. I was hooked. The kids on the stage at the microphone speaking truth to power during the March For Our Lives protest before hundreds of thousands in Washington, D.C., and millions more on television had gotten to me.
Their fury was visceral. Their anger directed not just toward the National Rifle Association and its political lackeys but also at the adults in America who had failed to keep them safe. They were full of bravado, clearly enjoying the attention and reveling in their newfound power. And frankly, who could blame them?
They had ignited a movement, instigated a march that joined the ranks of important national protests in recent American history. Their unabashed call for action hearkened back to the civil rights movement, Cesar Chavez’s United Farmworkers boycotts, the Vietnam War protests, the fight for equality on the part of women, the disabled and the LGBT community,
Like the civil rights movement of the early 1960s, the images we were watching on television were those of young girls and boys. We forget that although adults such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and John Lewis initiated the fight for racial equality, it was teenagers who rode the freedom buses into the Deep South, registered voters and were on the receiving end of water hoses and snarling German shepherds in Bull Connor’s Birmingham.
It was those images, particularly the ones of defenseless kids being beaten, hosed, bitten and murdered, which riveted the nation, changed the feelings of white people toward the truth of their cause, and eventually culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.
I couldn’t help feeling ambivalent about watching the kids have their day in the spotlight. On the one hand, I greatly admired their cause and them in particular. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but worry that they wouldn’t possibly appreciate how hard the struggle would be, how fierce the opposition to them would become and how long it might ultimately take for meaningful gun control legislation to be enacted.
It took more than a decade for the first voices in the civil rights movement of the 1950s to culminate in the passage of legislation in the mid-1960s. It wasn’t until years later that many states in the country fully complied with the anti-discrimination provisions of the new laws in housing, public accommodations and employment.
These wonderful kids had fired the first shot across the bow. This was their Thomas Paine “give me liberty or give me eeath “ moment; their Boston Tea Party ruckus; their Bunker Hill place in time. They had framed the debate in the most dramatic of terms with the words: March For Our Lives. Who among us could respond by saying we don’t think you have a right to feel safe at school?
They were boldly doing what the leaders of the civil rights movement did when they plaintively asked the country: Please tell us why the color of our skin should deny us the same basic rights given to citizens of a different complexion.
They were following the founding fathers who asked their fellow countrymen why they needed to tolerate a monarchy that ordered them to pay taxes but was unwilling to offer them representation regarding why and how those taxes were to be spent.
The American Revolution began in 1775 and ended with victory in 1783. It’s a long hard road from outcry to success. These kids are going to discover that soon enough. The NRA is going to come out guns blazing (pun intended). The corporate gun manufacturers funding them, the gun rights stalwarts voting in line with them, the politicians petrified by them are all going to be fighting back against these kids as if their lives depended on it. Greed and fear will do that to people.
I hope these kids follow through on their promise to register and vote in the fall elections.
Success there will bolster morale and give their movement traction. As for us adults, the least we can do is to embrace their cause, take them into our arms and hug them with all our might and shamefully thank them for having the guts to do what we failed to do for them.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.