Marching to the tune of history

Published 6:32 pm Wednesday, March 21, 2018

“What is wrong with teenagers today?  Their clothes are too revealing, and their hair is too long. They listen to horrible music, are spoiled and ungrateful. These teens seem lost. There is no hope for America tomorrow!” emphatically declared Greg’s father.

The year was 1964.

The years pass by, and the hair of the baby boomer teen is gone either by way of scissors or old age. Their clothes are less revealing for apparent reasons. The music listened to by the spoiled kids of the 60s and 70s is presently on the oldies station, and Greg is now complaining the younger generation is spoiled and ungrateful.

The other day I read a disparaging opinion article regarding the teens in Parkland, Florida, who are protesting for better protection against gun violence. I also heard another adult state, “They will grow up and change their tune. They are just idealistic kids who will one day think differently about everything.”

Gosh, I hope not. I understand teens’ attitudes will change to some degree, but may they always have the fire in their spirit to fight for causes they believe in. I am one of those labeled “lost” kids of the 60s who would walk with the students of this generation on March 24 if I weren’t out of the country. Whether I agree with them or not is not the point.

The point is they care enough about America to act and are not silent. I would be frightened beyond belief if I never saw another protest, sit in, or demonstration by a student or their parents.

Protesting and activism have always been vital for America. We have the right to speak as well as we do to carry guns. Protests have altered our history and shaped the nation beginning with the Boston Tea Party which spawned the American Revolution.

The Abolitionist movement from 1830 to 1865 to end slavery led to the civil war and finally to the 13th Amendment which abolished enslavement.

In 1960 three African American teens and one 20-year-old went to a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, and sat on its stools. Soon afterward other students followed with sit-ins at lunch counters throughout the nation.

Almost 100 years after the enactment of 13th Amendment, the Civil Rights bill of 1964 passed. How many protests, marches, murders, and years did that take? How many teenagers participated?

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 killed 146 workers because of unsafe, terrible conditions in a workplace. Most of the dead were women ages 16 to 23. Afterward, folks marched and protested; OSHA began.

In 1913, 8,000 women marched with bands, floats and four mounted brigades for the right to vote and their voices to be heard. Seven years later the 19th Amendment passed. Women are still marching today.

Those long-haired kids of the 60s marched against the war in Vietnam. Many of those teens’ friends sheared their locks and fought in Vietnam. However, all believed in a free America.

The protests of the boomer students started out as young people trying to end the war.  When 7,000 pages worth of information revealed in the Pentagon Papers showed our government tried to cover up data regarding the Vietnam conflict, it set a precedence of general mistrust for government and demonstrated the importance of truth in journalism.

We will never agree on politics and what is right for our country, but we can all agree that without the citizen involvement and love of country there would be no America.

I wrote three senators, the president and several state legislatures a few weeks ago. When we want our voices heard, we should act. I understand if we do not make use of the freedom to speak, we will lose our freedom.

As we age, where is the fighting spirit of those who once marched in the streets to protest injustice and war? Do we have to lose our idealism entirely as if it were a sign of weakness? Are we so jaded, cynical and divided that we cannot try to improve America for the sake of those that will lead this nation long after we are gone?

These teens who will march on Washington are not our enemy. These are our children and grandchildren who believe they can promote change for the betterment of our nation.

Just like Greg of long ago, who believed if he walked across a bridge in Selma he would end prejudice. Or like Greg’s great-grandmother who marched in front of a marching band in 1913 thought she could change women’s rights forever.

They are like Greg’s cousin, who died protesting at Kent State or his brother who was killed fighting in Vietnam. They are shouting like the kids who watched as tea filled a Boston harbor because they just wanted to grow up in the land of the free.

“What is wrong with teenagers today?” Maybe nothing.