Welcome to your first political experience. I’m sorry we’ve left this mess for your generation to deal with. You reminded me today that the last time you were at the statehouse, it was under better circumstances. Your team had a private Saturday tour with one of the state senators (a team dad) and the Lieutenant Governor. You got to try the Charter Oak Chair on for size and take seats in the senate chamber. Little did we expect that day five years ago that tragedy would fall in our backyard.
About a month after your visit, gun violence erupted in Sandy Hook–the same district where you knew I started teaching years before, only about three miles from my current school. You came home from school that day, irate and betrayed. An adult in the cafeteria had told you, a second grader, about what happened. Maybe they didn’t know about our connections to Newtown. It hardly matters. You declared that night that if he came to your school you would stop him, you’d hit him and make him stop. I could barely hold back my tears as I tried to restore your childhood. No, you don’t hurt a man with a gun. You run. You get an adult. We’ll take care of it. We’ll protect you.
Well, we haven’t. I’m grateful every day that your determination hasn’t been put to the test. When I hear about the selfless students who have sacrificed themselves to shield their classmates I think back to your insistence that you would have stopped him. I feel both pride and terror at the thought. But though you’ve been spared direct contact with this senseless violence, it has seeped into the ‘normal’ of your world. You’ve been doing lockdown drills since you were seven. And now, in seventh grade, your drill was only days after another mass school shooting in Parkland. You sat in silence with the knowledge that the danger is just as real today.
But those students rose up. They found their voices and they are sure. Every bit as determined as you were that night five years ago, they have declared that they will stop the bad guys with the guns.
And so here we are. Standing outside the statehouse again.
As the rally progressed we inched further and further toward the front looking for a glimpse of the people whose voices were ringing out. You had the idea to interview some of the people who were there. “Look at her sign, I think she could be a teacher,” you pointed to a poster with the faces of twenty or so children. They are leaders, dreamers, friends…not targets, it read. “Do you think I could interview him?” you asked as Senator Blumenthal finished speaking.
And while we never did quite reach the front, you reached a tipping point. When the student organizers shared Instagram handles you checked them out. When Senator Murphy shared his online profiles you followed him. You see that the work does not end today at this event. This is the rallying cry, calling all of us–teachers, students, families, grandparents, community organizers, and elected officials– together. We stood side by side today for this call to action.
And now we must act.
Though you are still a child, technically, through these times you’re becoming an engaged citizen. Unlike what some may say, or believe, you’re a citizen of this country the day you’re born here. And you’ve taken steps toward acting like one. Another sign we saw today read: When the adults act like children and the children must be the grown ups, you know change is coming.
You are the change.
You are the hope.
You are the future.
You are America.
“I know that we can win, I know that greatness lies in you. But remember from here on in, history has its eyes on you.” —Washington, “History Has Its Eyes on You”