Tuesday, January 22, 2019

That Is The Only Way Love Wins

Over the weekend, like many of my fellow Americans, I attended the Women's March in my city on Saturday, then took part in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day march on Monday. I saw some of my students with their families on both days. One three-year-old had made her own sign for the MLK march. She had written the word "Sorry" with her own wiggly letters. 

These have become important annual events on my calendar, but they've taken on added significance since the election of the current President. 

Families were well-represented at both events, parents there with children of all ages, from infants to teenagers. This is an important point, I think, educational beyond the specific issues of the day. This is a part of how democracy works: sometimes we have to take to the streets, together, fists raised in solidarity, parents and children, making our voices heard.

Despite the emotions many of us feel, they were tame events compared to many with which I've been involved. These permitted marches convened at Cal Anderson Park and Garfield High School and ended at Seattle Center and Westlake Center, public places designed in part for these sorts of things. We sang and chanted and waved our signs. There were no cops beating us with batons. On the contrary, there were legions of them there to protect us. There were no firefighters trying to disperse us with their hoses. Our opponents did not line the streets heckling us. Judges were not standing by the throw us in jail and our local elected officials were actually participating.

For a long time, one of the biggest challenges I had when talking with children about the civil rights movement is that it's impossible to do without condemning all of society, including the very institutions we think we want children to trust. Law enforcement, fire departments, the courts, and other governmental bodies took an active and overt part in systematically violating the Constitutional rights of women and black Americans, while white Americans elected representatives that made that happen.

I've come to recognize, however, that it's healthy for both the kids as well as the rest of society when children grow up not fully trusting the power that others exert in the name of we the people. I want them to know that democracy requires their ongoing participation and continual vigilance, that everything they tell you isn't true, and that if you don't like what you see, then get out there and start making noise about it. We don't owe our children the sort of whitewashed, feel good history lessons that I was fed as a child, the ones written by those with the most power. Indeed, viewing history this way is a luxury afforded me and mine by the accident of our white skin: oppressed Americans have always had to raise their children to be wary because they know that these abuses are not just part of the past, but an active, seething part of the present. My friend's "Sorry" isn't enough, but it's a good start for every white person. And I will add another "Sorry" as a starting point for this male person.

Neither of the weekend rallies felt like celebrations. They were calls to action. Indeed, that is what the present demands from us: to roll up our sleeves and redouble our efforts. We know that our government behaved badly then and is behaving badly now. We shake our heads at the evils of the past, but too many of us shrug about the overly racist and sexist policies and actions being enacted today in our name, the most outrageous of which is the President's ongoing policy of kidnapping children from legal asylum seekers, putting them in prisons, and refusing, even after court orders, to reunite them with their parents. The children of our children will be making their own signs to apologizing for the sins today being committed in the name of we the people.

This is why it is important that we tell our children the truth about our world today and every day. This is why we start by saying, "Sorry." This is why we must take our kids into the streets to raise their fists alongside their fellow citizens, to listen to them, and to then return to our lives, sleeves rolled up, efforts redoubled. This is the only way we will ever bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice. This is the only way that love wins.

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