Dear Parkland…and all the others:
There’s a peculiar notion afoot that only survivors and experts can write about important issues, but I take exception to that.
I was not present in Parkland or in Sandy Hook and have never seen up close a child bleeding to death with a gaping wound from a paramilitary firearm, but my own life has been constricted in reaction to our U.S. specialty, the killing of children. It seems like any minute it might happen again, anywhere. I now think of mortality when playing with my grandchildren, and am destabilized and disturbed by the “active shooter drills” that our babies are becoming accustomed to. Parents are plotting the shortest way home in case their children are threatened; they keep their kids’ phones charged. I feel a sense of inevitability and helplessness, numbed to the incompetence and negligence of our government. Brutality against innocents invades the Alpha level of my dreams.
The vaunted experts and the stories of the survivors have not moved the needle of compassion. The flaccid, cowardly laws put in place have done little to stop gun violence. The cure will come from the bottom up, and nobody knows this better than the people who were young activists in the 1960s and 1970s, the Hippies.
People ridiculed the Hippies (we seemed to be having an unacceptable amount of fun), then and now, but we were mostly working people and students, serious people who eventually took care of our families and paid our taxes. Every Hippie had his or her own definition of the word, but we have been thinking about justice, equality, and governmental competence for the last sixty years, and celebrate the surge of energy and activism today. In November, for example, I marched in a demonstration and nearly got arrested.
Our adolescence burst into joyful being with Elvis Presley and flowered into the Beatles and Bob Dylan. We gave you whole foods and yoga and invented the phrase “spiritual but not religious.” On our watch, abortion was partially legalized, divorce became more easily available, a Black justice joined the Supreme Court, and schools were desegregated. We opened the work place to women and traveled the world. We were miniskirts and the Pill.
But we lost 60,000 of our brothers in Vietnam, witnessed the assassination of our leaders (Martin Luther King, John and Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X, John Lennon), and saw unarmed college students gunned down at Kent State by our own National Guard. We suffered through Watergate and threw up when Gerald Ford decided we couldn’t handle prosecuting a president who had undermined our democracy and thus pardoned the crook Richard Nixon.
Our exuberance and certitude were anathema to the Establishment whose men (an unapologetic patriarchy then) distinguished themselves by keeping their hair short, while the Hippies grew theirs long.
In the end, the long-hairs lost. Forty thousand Americans a year are still killed by firearms, working women return to work six weeks after giving birth, without childcare, voting rights are in retreat, schools are still segregated, we still are militaristic and jingoistic, abortion is ever more severely restricted, drugs are still managed by “war,” not health care, food is more toxic, and authoritarianism rules.
We weren’t sure resistance would return and are heartened that it has. We represent a reservoir of organizational experience, professional expertise, financial support, and good will. We should be meeting today’s young activists in schools and libraries, at demonstrations and conferences, in our homes (I’ll make dinner). We would make a powerful coalition. We know how exhausting it is to fight the system; you suffer unthinkable losses, humiliating defeats, and insulting assaults. You need rest, information, help, encouragement, the long view, maybe a bed to sleep on.
The Earth is in the balance this time around. It’s going to be a hard struggle, but we cannot lose. Let’s join hands and promise not to give up this time.
With a fierce embrace,