Two kids I know, eight and six, regularly wear Protect Kids, Not Guns shirts into the heart of one of the most Republican counties in the nation, where NRA stickers outnumber even the pro-life bumper stickers. Their parents didn't stuff them into these shirts as a cute political act. They bought them to align with the kids' own personal political beliefs.
30% of Protect Kids, Not Guns sales are donated to the #neveragain activists in Parkland.
Those boys know that Dylan Roof, the Charleston shooter who killed nine at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, attempted to purchase a firearm at the gun store two miles from their house. They plot how to overthrow it. They draft signs and plot pickets. They imagine revolution.
“Mama, it’s time for a revolution in this country,” the older of the two young activists said one day, as they drove home. “It’s time to rise up, like Alexander Hamilton says.” He is in the second grade. But he means it. And that, friends, that impulse toward activism, the instinct to speak up and demand change, is something to be celebrated and nurtured. Because if we're lucky, and if we give them enough space and support, our nation's littlest patriots might just save us from ourselves.
Young Activist (because the world isn't going to change itself) by Free to Be Kids
"Our history is defined by the youthful push to make America more just, more compassionate, more equal under the law," wrote President Barack Obama of the Parkland activists in Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People issue. "This generation—of Parkland, of Dreamers, of Black Lives Matter—embraces that duty. If they make their elders uncomfortable, that’s how it should be. Our kids now show us what we’ve told them America is all about, even if we haven’t always believed it ourselves: that our future isn’t written for us, but by us."
The young activists of Parkland, FL
We’ve all seen the heroics of the Parkland kids: of David Hogg, of Cameron Kasky, of Emma Gonzales. They were present when a killer shot up Majorie Stoneman Douglas High School, killing 17 and injuring another 17, which marks it as one of the most deadly school shooting sprees in American history. But David, Cameron, and Emma -- who are now so famous as to have their own Wikipedia pages -- refused to accept the mouthed thoughts and prayers of politicians. They organized. First marches and walk-outs of schools nationwide, to protest gun violence (all lead on the local level by other children). They planned a National Walkout, planned a March for Our Lives in Washington, DC, and have appeared on talk shows, radio shows, and other media appearances to do battle with vicious right-wingers who will stoop so low as to spread terrible rumors in order to discredit them. Still, they keep on.
Their parents? Emma’s mother told 60 Minutes, according to CNN, "It's like she built herself a pair of wings out of balsa wood and duct tape and jumped off a building, and we're just like running along beneath her with a net, which she doesn't want or think that she needs." But still, they support their fiery daughter. Emma’s mom told NPR, “It's kind of like letting them drive for the first time... You just got to open your arms and let them fly."
David Hogg’s mom continues to support him -- including his desire to take a gap year before college to fight for gun control -- despite getting death threats, “I’m under so much stress,” she told The Washington Post. “I feel angry and exhausted.” And yet, she continues to support her son’s fight. Protest, all of these parents know: starting a #NeverAgain movement, questioning Marco Rubio, calling BS on a US Senator -- is patriotic. And these kids are some of our greatest patriots today.
Protest is Patriotic by Free to Be Kids
The Parkland kids are the latest in a long and noble line of young activists - like Malala Yousafzai, a Pakastani girl and the youngest Nobel Laureate. Starting from the time she was 11, she wrote a blog about living under the occupation of the Taliban in her native Swat valley, especially focused on the fact that female education was banned. Media attention grew: a documentary was made of her life; she was nominated for an International Children’s Peace Prize by Desmond Tutu. She was shot by the Taliban in retaliation for her activism. Then she started writing. She wrote an autobiography. She accepted several major awards. She continued to speak out for her Pakstani sisters left without recourse to basic human rights.
Malala's father was an activist as well. He also received threats from the Taliban. “It caused Malala extreme anxiety, yet she continued with her own activism,” says the BBC. "Though acknowledging he was a role model for his daughter, Ziauddin says he feels no guilt for what ultimately happened to her. ‘Guilt comes from when you do something sinful. When your basic human rights are violated and you don't stand up, that's a sin,’ he says.” Nevertheless, she persisted? Move over, Elizabeth Warren. Malala, who’s barely in college now, has you beat.
Nevertheless, She Persisted by Free to Be Kids
These are the heroes we try to hold up to our children. Emma. Malala. David. Cameron. Not to mention the 4,000 kids who walked out of school in Birmingham during the hot, long days of the Civil Rights movement, and found themselves facing Bull Connor and his dogs and fire hoses. The resulting images are what forced JFK to finally take notice of what was going on down South.
Remember tiny Ruby Bridges, who integrated an all-white school in Louisiana in 1954. These children changed lives. These children changed history. They did it through love. They did it because they world wasn’t going to change itself. They did it because they had the support of parents who knew it was their job to stand with them, to stand back and let their kids fly.
And to provide, always, a safe place for them to land.