A week from today millions of people–led by our nation’s youth–will take to the streets in the March For Our Lives, a timely and worthy protest organized by youth against gun violence.
There were two excellent Truth School trainings scheduled for the day of the march: Millennials and Elders Working Together for Social Change, and From Passionate Political Idealism to Concrete Action. We have decided to cancel both classes so that our students and trainers will be free to join the march if they choose.
In addition, we are co-sponsoring our local sibling march, the Pioneer Valley March For Our Lives. Follow that link to Facebook for the details.
Our Director, the Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian, has written a reflection on the march in her monthly column for the Daily Hampshire Gazette. She writes:
Someone told me this story is apocryphal, but I think it is true.
During the Vietnam War, the Rev. A.J. Muste, much loved and admired pacifist, political activist and leader in the anti-war movement, gathered with others day after day in front of the White House, held a candle, and vigiled in silence to protest the war.
One day a reporter walked by and found Rev. Muste there alone, in the dark, in the rain, holding a candle.
“Rev. Muste,” the reporter said to the elderly clergyman, “you know standing out in front of the White House alone in the rain holding a candle will not change the world.”
“Oh no,” Muste replied immediately. “I don’t do this to change the world. I do this so the world won’t change me.”
On March 24, thousands of us will join in the March for Our Lives to try to change the world and so the world won’t change us. According to the Pioneer Valley March For Our Lives website, the march, conceived of and led by students, was planned following the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
“In the wake of endless school shootings,” the website states, “students have decided we’ve been numb to the frequent tragedies for too long. The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High have called for a nationwide day of action to protest the unending gun violence.”
The website goes on, “Student organizers across the Pioneer Valley have answered and come together to make our voices heard! We’ll kick off at Northampton High School and march to City Hall to demand legislative action. The rally at City Hall will feature student speakers and performers, amplifying youth voices.”
I am 66. Old, weary activists like me will march behind young student leaders so the world won’t change us and make us cynical, shrill, resigned and cranky. We will march behind the students grateful every minute for their leadership, outrage, courage, wisdom and creativity. Young people will lead, old people will follow; young people will speak, old people will listen; young people will direct, old people will support.
Since the school shooting in Florida, youthful energy, clarity and leadership have sprung up like spring flowers that suddenly appear in your yard. Almost instantly after the shooting, high school students were expressing their thoughts and feelings passionately, articulately and powerfully to the media, and, most importantly, offering solutions to the problem of gun violence in America.
Interviewed on TV by countless reporters, the high school students — in political T-shirts, ripped jeans, and athletic uniforms — offered a more in-depth analysis of the problem of gun violence and more reasonable solutions than anything that has come from the White House or the (nearly) silent Cabinet.
The students are not backing down, and they refuse to be silenced. “Our trauma isn’t going away, but neither are we,” Leonor Munoz, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School said. “We will fight everyday because we have to, because change is the only thing that makes any of this bearable.”
Young leaders are declaring “enough is enough” and demanding “never again!” I not only stand with them, I stand behind them. On March 24, I will happily take my place, with some placard I will create before then, at the back of march, falling into step with the other gray-hairs as we follow the students and take our cue from them.
There are cynics who, whenever a march, rally, or vigil is announced in Northampton dismiss the gathering as unnecessary because this is such a progressive community far from the centers of power. We are told that marching, rallying or vigiling in Northampton does not matter because it is only “preaching to the choir.”
My response to that criticism is that the choir needs rehearsing. Especially now. The choir of aging, tired, and less-than-imaginative movement veterans like me needs rehearsing and the new conductors are all under 20. Movement elders need to listen to the new songs, quicken to a new rhythm, and take our place as one voice among many with new leaders out front.
A new generation of activists is taking their rightful place at the front of the march and us old folks are proud and happy to pass the baton to them. The role for us old folks is to generously fund the new initiatives the young people are creating, listen deeply to them with the ears of our hearts, support them and “stuff envelopes and lick stamps” (as we used to say). That may now be: send emails and show up with your sneakers on.
I will be marching on March 24 because I want to stop gun violence, protect children and all living beings, and because I want to be counted as one of the bodies at the back of the line. I will be cheering, chanting or walking in silence — whatever the capable leaders tell me to do.
I agree with Alfonso Calderon, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas junior, who, when asked about the march said, “No kid should be afraid to go to school, no kid should be afraid to walk outside, and no kid should have to worry about being shot. Now that’s why I’m marching.”