This weekends’ march by students, parents, families, children, politicians, celebrities and law enforcement, to name a few, was a pivotal moment in our history of free speech, dissent and action. But this is NOT a piece about taking a side in the debate (though it’s clear where I stand).
No, this is about commitment. I once said that debating with someone who is middle of the road is dangerous; they can slide to either side of the fence in an instant. I’d rather argue with someone who is 180 degrees from where I am. May not change their mind but I know where they stand.
Being involved in demonstrations in the late 60’s and early 70’s, then active in working congressional legislation for the past 7 years, my advice to the new generation responding to the most recent Parkland massacre and the general issue of guns is: it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
The civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, housing demonstrations, free speech marches, gay rights rallies,freedom of choice marches all took years to reach the desired conclusions and sometimes it took decades. And some are still going on.
The impatience of youth is nothing new and it is not just wasted on the young. In a digital world where change happens every 2 seconds and we learn about it 1 second later, wanting change in an instant is understandable. And while not realistic, the world does move at a quicker pace than it did 40, 30, 20, even 1 year ago.
Change comes but not always on your own schedule. The best advice I can give is: Don’t stop. Just 24 hours after the nationwide marches ended, many people moved on, back to their daily lives. And this is where the real work begins.
Today’s young organizers need to be just that: organized, with a goal in mind. Is it changing the laws, is it changing the mental health care system, is it challenging education, is it voting out-or in-candidates in November? Is it some of these or all of these?
The other word is: focus. Keep your eye on the prize, so to speak. What is the long term goal? Is it changing the way America thinks? Pretty heady stuff but that’s a pretty good goal and we have learned through history, it can be accomplished. We have seen America’s attitude change towards the LGBT community, though still slow for some. Our thirst for war and regime change has evolved; America wants things fixed at home.
This is the advice I’d give to anyone who desires change. Right, Left, independent. But wherever you stand, you can’t do it half-way. You’ve got to dig in and hang on-and fight.
One of the best quotes I’ve ever heard about standing up for free speech comes from the movie, “The American President.” Andrew Shepherd says: “America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You've gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say, 'You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.”
Tomorrow begins today. And you are not alone. There are some of us old-timers, ready to help you get it done. After all, this is everybody’s America.