I was reminded this morning in a Facebook post by my friend, long time activist David Newby, that 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the height of the protests against the Vietnam War. He was noting how 50 years ago it was college aged people leading the way and today it’s even younger people taking the lead. He found great hope in that.
I find hope in that as well. I find hope there because of the David Newby’s of the world. When I was young activist/ organizer in the 1990’s, learning the trade in Wisconsin in places like Stevens Point and Madison, I was meeting people like David, Jim Missey, Betsy Lawrence and many others who had begun their political engagement in the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements. Those formative experiences made it impossible for them to turn away, though I am sure there are many time that they would have loved to have tossed their marching boots and gone home. They couldn’t. They’d grown to know and love and recognize themselves among those hurt by the injustices inflicted by governments that don’t represent the people and corporations that pull the strings.
My generation’s additions to the crew of social change makers were small but determined. Like our predecessors, many of us have found we can’t just go home and forget. Sure, most of us have regular jobs and families. But we also keep speaking out in one way or another. And, some of us, have chosen to follow social justice as our career path as well.
It seems to me that there is something to the idea of “starting them young.” Those who find their way to challenging the forces of oppression as teens and young adults find their passion and themselves in the struggle. There is community. There is a reason for being. There is a sense of love and hope. There is a multi-generational space where people care for each other. There are the things that we’re looking for in developing a strong community and democracy. Those young people may not all stay active every day of their lives, but many will keep coming back. Those connections will be made.
In the early 1960’s as the Anti-War Movement was starting protests in some of our larger cities had crowds in the hundreds. By 1967, over 100,000 gathered at the Lincoln Memorial. In 1968, brought thousands to Chicago for the Democratic National Convention.
More than 200,000 took part in the March for Our Lives in Washington D.C. according to Digital Design & Imaging Service. Thousands of others gathered in cities and small towns around the world. Youth led these gatherings. These teens and young adults are leaders who will find their community, their hope, their possibilities and their understanding of the political system in this struggle, alongside those of previous generations who never hung up their marching boots. The difference here is that the crowd has grown.
The movement is growing. It is getting stronger. These teenagers don’t have a complete political and social analysis. Thank goodness! Their minds are still young, agile, and developing new ideas. I say thank you!
To the young people I say, listen to the stories. There are many elders still among you with important stories to share and others who’ve done this stuff for a while too. Listen, learn, and do what feels right. You’ve got this and we’re with you.