Generation Hope

I was proud Saturday.

I stood in downtown Greensboro in what looked like snow, and as everyone around me huddled to stay warm, I saw a sea of teenagers work to take their country back.

I knew some of them. I had watched them grow up. Of course, that included my daughter, standing with two friends under an umbrella as they shivered, a few dozen steps from the stage at LeBauer Park.

But the other kids? I had no clue. They were loud, singing, hollering, clustered near the stage. The weather had gone south quick, and hundreds had already scooted to find warmth away from the weather weirdness of Mother Nature.

But hundreds of teenagers remained, cemented to their spot in the park. They held up signs that showed exactly what angered them and forced them to move.

You’ll find the N&R story here.

stage

A view from a 12-foot ladder.

I climbed up a 12-foot ladder to get a better view, and what I saw was something I’d never seen before in my adopted hometown – waves of teenagers standing in solidarity,  waving signs like they were spectators at a televised football game.

But they weren’t spectators. They were participants. And this was their event, what they called “March For Our Lives.” They were hip-deep involved in one of 800 rallies worldwide organized by teenagers demanding gun reform.

They all had one thing in common. They were politicized – or electrified, maybe — by what happened last month at a Florida high school and what they see that passes for democracy, cooperation and adult leadership in D.C.

We all know about that. We adults read it, see it, hear it every day. But these teenagers, too?

They’re known as Generation Z. They’re under 23, socially conscious, and according to research, addicted to the screens in their hands, steer clear of face-to-face conversation and avoid conflict at every opportunity.

At least, that’s what I find and what I see in my day job. But I sure didn’t see that Saturday afternoon when a crowd of at least 3,000 assembled at Governmental Plaza and marched a few blocks to LeBauer Park.

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A view from the plaza.

As they walked, their chants echoed in the canyon of concrete and steel along South Elm. And those chants were led by teenagers.

That … was beautiful. And it was so needed.

plaza

The march begins.

 

 

 

On Thursday, I listened to Katie Couric and her co-host, Brian Goldsmith, talk to Aly Sheehy on their podcast.

Aly is 18, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla. She’s also the editor of the yearbook, and she wants to become a doctor.

That fateful day at her school, she had asked her best friend to room with her at Central Florida. Her best friend said yes; Aly was stoked.

After that good news, her school conducted a fire drill in the morning. Then came another fire drill. Minutes later, she heard the successive pops and watched students run screaming away from her school.

Her teacher hurriedly ushered her and her classmates back into school and back into their classroom. That’s where she hid. That’s where she worried about her future. That’s where she sent what she thought would be her last text to her mom.

“I love you. This is real.”

She was scared. Still is. But she told Couric and Goldsmith, she’s better. And like those teenagers I saw Saturday afternoon in downtown Greensboro, she is energized to push for policy and change rather than accept thoughts and prayers.

 “Before when everything else happened, I’d see it on the news, I’d send my thoughts and prayers, and I’d say to myself, ‘I can’t do anything I’m a kid. I can’t change adults’ minds. They won’t listen to us.’

“They’re still not listening. Not all of them. But we’re trying our best. A few are a little bit stubborn about how kids can know so much information. But there’s something I want to say about that.

“We’re students, and we know that when you don’t study, you fail your test. This is our test now – this fight for change.”

You see this fight for change in Aly’s poem. She wrote it after what happened at her school. She titled her poem, “Dear Mr. President.”

‘My friends have died.

They’re gone from our lives.

Yet you sit there twiddling your thumbs.

 

My friends have died,

the life gone from their eyes.

Yet you sit there talking anything but guns.

 

My friends have died,

and we have cried and cried.

Yet you sit there blaming the mentally ill.

 

My friends have died,

our voices pushed aside,

yet you sit there, and you sit there still.

 

My friends have died,

and our tears aren’t dried,

yet you sit there watching us plead.

 

My friends have died,

it’s an issue nationwide,

you sit there still,

so how about you leave?

 

As a community forever unified,

I ask you, sir, how did this happen to us?

I invite you to learn to hear the story from inside,

because if not now,

when will the right time be to discuss?'”

On the podcast, Aly continues:

“Trust me when I say this. We’ve been up until 4 and 5 o’clock in the morning researching our laws, looking up our legislators and seeing how much money is donated and where the money is going and coming from.

“We want to make sure we know what we’re talking about because we want to make sure we have the answers to the questions that people ask us. That’s the most important thing.”

You can find her conversation here.

You can find a documentary her classmates produced here.

It is something.

joyce

Do know these three ….

 

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… And this one, too. Watched her grow up.

As a father of two teenagers, it angers me all to hell that our kids are growing up in an era where they worry about their schools turning into a shooting range and whether they can come home safe – if they can come home at all.

Case in point: Feb. 14.

Aly was all kind of excited about rooming in college with her best friend. Then, an hour or so later, she’s cowering in her classroom, hearing six minutes of pop-pop-pop and sending this text to her mom:

“I love you. This is real.”

When I heard that through my earbuds, I was walking after lunch between research and writing assignments on campus. But I stopped, leaned over, grabbed my knees and felt that recognizable clutch in my throat.

It’s about my daughter, Elizabeth, my youngest. She just turned 16.

The day after the Parkland shooting, she came home from Grimsley High scared over what she saw on the screen of a friend’s iPhone. It was a video shot from inside a Parkland classroom, and it showed kids hiding as they listened to 100 shots from an AR-15 pepper their school.

And they thought they were safe.

Our kids are growing up in this kind of world.

On the radio the other day, I heard one of Aly’s classmates call themselves and their peers Generation Lockdown.

But as I stood in the freeze of a Saturday afternoon, four days into what the calendar calls spring, I saw a crowd of teenagers singing, waving signs like flags and yelling about the need for change and the importance of going and registering to vote.

Meanwhile, two teenagers stood on a raised stage, turned two microphones into weapons of activism and carried out a call-and-response of what could be.

Tell me what democracy looks like!

This is what democracy looks like!

Tell me what democracy looks like!

This is what democracy looks like!

For me, that doesn’t sound like something from Generation Lockdown. That sounds like something from Generation Hope.

This week, in an op-ed for NBC News, I read something from Bill Murray.

Yes, that Bill Murray.

Murray-1

Today’s Bill Murray.

And this one, too.

murray-2

The Bill Murray always in my mind.

Anyway, he wrote:

“The thing that’s so powerful about students is that, when you haven’t had your idealism broken yet, you’re able to speak from a place that has no confusion, where there is a clear set of values.

“But there are idealists left over the age of 18, I’m sure of it. Idealism is a voice that’s inside of you; it’s your conscience. That can really deteriorate along the way, depending on the road that you follow, and it can become almost dysfunctional, but it’s there. Everyone has it.

“Sometimes it’s just a whisper, but, in some people, it’s a shout.”

I saw it shout Saturday. So did my friend Palmer, a mother of a Grimsley High freshman.

I saw her, 20 feet from the stage, under an umbrella with the sign “Enough” under her arm. When I sidled up to say hello, I could easily see what kept her transfixed to her spot beside a tree.

It was what she saw all around her.

“This makes me want to cry,” she told me.

Palmer and I stood together for a few minutes. We heard a singer from Weaver Academy and few more speakers. Then, I turned to leave. I had to go find my daughter among the mass of umbrellas near the front. I said goodbye. Palmer said this:

“I’m so proud of these kids.”

I am, too.

After Parkland, after the umpteenth school shooting in America – I don’t keep count – they have taken it upon themselves to do the Gandhi thing.

Be the change they wish to see in the world.

And yes, this does feel different, this movement by the youngest among us. It answers a question I found this week in a book a newspaper friend recommended I read.

“Our nation will not survive as we know it without an engaged and committed population. We cannot wait for others to fix what is broken, and I am inspired to see a new generation of grassroots activists rise up to insist that the cause of justice is expressed broadly across America.

“Our founding documents contain some of the most beautiful and noble words ever put on paper. I recite them often and love them with every fiber of my being. ‘We the people,’ all of us, are living together in perhaps the greatest social and governmental experiment ever conceived.

“We are being tested. How can we prepare ourselves for this moment? Are we up to the challenge?”

That’s from “What Unites Us,’’ a new book from journalist Elliot Kirschner and Dan Rather.

rather mug

This Dan.

Yes, that Dan Rather.

Well, I found the answer to their question Saturday afternoon. And the answer is yes.

Hell, yes.

 

old woman

The discoveries you’ll find on the way to a rally.

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