“The idea that only special people can create change is useful if you want to prevent mass movements and keep change from happening.” (Lyn Mikel Brown)
“Maybe the kids will save us.” It’s a phrase I periodically and not infrequently hear among teachers, along with “They give me hope.” I’ve said it myself - just two days ago, in fact - and no doubt will continue to, because I do firmly believe it. And on that horrible Wednesday, when the last Rock Band group of the night smiled and thanked me and walked out the door laughing together and there was nothing left to enable me to wall off my emotions about the news from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, one of my first responses was to turn immediately back to the kids. I asked Windsor’s permission to post her beautiful and powerful All School email to our blog, and she quickly and graciously agreed. It has become our most widely read blog post ever, and for good reason.
In it, she called on the school to “brainstorm how our community can stop the unlawful killing of all. What can we do besides send our hopes and prayers?” and, along with offering to help her voice be widely heard, I offered to talk with her. The next morning, we agreed to find time together some evening as our daytime schedules don’t really mesh well.
There’s no question that teenagers, most of whom weren’t even born when Columbine happened, are currently taking action and making a mark. “The brave Parkland students are doing something astonishing. They are instantly preempting disinfo & gaslighting by posting testimony, evidence, photos. And they have rallied to specifically to oppose the NRA. This is courageous grieving; they are warriors fighting for all of us.” (Heffernan) David Hogg said, “I recorded those videos because I didn’t know if I was going to survive. (...) But I knew that if those videos survived, they would tell the story. And that story would be one that would change things. And that would be my legacy.” (quoted in Green) Sarah wrote "@realDonaldTrump hello I’m the 16 year old girl who tweeted you that I didn’t want your condolences, I wanted gun control, and went viral because of it. I heard you are coming to my community soon. I would love for you to hear my opinions on gun control in person.” And Emma Gonzalez summed it up well: “We are going to be the kids that you read about in textbooks... we are going to be the last mass shooting." (quoted in ABC News)
Of course, the stronger and broader the support for the changes these kids want, the more likely change will happen. Plans are under way for two separate school walkouts, one organized by the Women’s March for March 14 and another organized by National School Walkout for April 20 (the 19th anniversary of Columbine) that would bring together students and teachers. One of my friends asked if parents would be supportive and the ensuing discussion showed that, while that support would obviously not be unanimous, it is definitely there - indeed, many parents would no doubt be in attedance.
Throughout this process, as a feminist educator who always wants to do my best to support kids in their activism, I’m well aware of potential traps and pitfalls. In her book Powered by Girl: A Field Guide for Supporting Youth Activists, Lyn Mikel Brown lays out a case and methodology for intergenerational partnerships, noting “This is where the rubber meets the road, and it requires courage – the courage to give girls power and the courage to stand by them when they use it. If we believe in the consciousness-raising work we are doing together, if we believe in girls’ capacity to think critically and their right to come to their own conclusions about what matters to them, and if we really believe risk-taking is good for girls and true leadership involves grappling with possibilities, disagreement, and making the hard choices, then the onus is on us to provide them with all the support we can muster as they make decisions and face consequences." (location 1862) I have adult privilege and life experience as both a social justice activist and a teacher, and I can use those to support her and the students who will be joining with her. But I need to be focusing on their ideas and their voices and not attempting to shape or, worse, co-opt their work.
Of course, this doesn’t preclude me taking my own actions. I’m one of hundreds of people who recently joined Sandy Hook Promise Leaders, after quietly promoting and aiding their work for several years. I’m already networked with dozens and dozens of teachers, and raw as our emotions are, we are all actively thinking about what can be done. Ideas range from building stronger, more empathetic school communities to improving mental health care in the country to looking beyond mass shootings and school shootings to other aspects of the gun violence problem such as domestic violence and suicide. And more. But, increasingly, people - including a fair number of gun rights advocates that I know - are saying we need meaningful gun legislation as well. It’s a lot to take on, but then there are a lot of people ready to take it on.
Including our own students.
It comes down to what do we want to do, what can we do, and what must we do. And it also comes down to not just clinging to blind hope, but to actually taking action. As Lyn Mikel Brown said, “Hope, of course, is not a commodity but something we create together.” (location 471)