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Marchers for Our Lives have taken the torch for change

Supporters chant for Manatee's March for Our Lives rally on March 24, coinciding with over 800 worldwide rallies.
Supporters chant for Manatee's March for Our Lives rally on March 24, coinciding with over 800 worldwide rallies. ttompkins@bradenton.com

I was surprised by how different the March for Our Lives was from the prior marches I had participated in for equal rights and religious freedom.

Because of an elder cousin's 80th birthday, I ended up marching in New York City where, as a 70-year-old, I and other elders were outnumbered by youngsters marching for the first time. These kids were fresh, determined and articulate, but they were newbies at marches.

The speakers were not well-known celebrities. Instead, they were children who had experienced first-hand the trauma of gun violence both at schools and in their neighborhoods. Paul McCartney, who joined the New York march, was simply a participant marching in memory of his friend John Lennon, killed by a gun.

McCartney’s participation took backstage as we listened to the youthful speakers’ experiences, which were full of contemporary pain. Tears kept rolling down my cheeks and those of my fellow marchers because their experiences were horrific. They were sharing their horrors, which surely were not fairytales, and would not end, with “And they lived happily ever after.”

In fact, what the speakers and young participants cared about was simply surviving. As one youngster’s sign proclaimed, “It could be me!” I remember when the Cuban missile crisis occurred, my fear was that we all would be annihilated and my life shortened. I related to these children’s desperation to live full lives.

A Sandy Hook librarian spoke about how she and others tried to shelter her elementary students, but the sound of automatic gunshot kept popping. Now those elementary students had grown and marched with us with signs that pleaded, “Never Again.”

Other clever signs made me think. Why is it more difficult to adopt a kitten than buy a semi-automatic military weapon? Why are we protecting guns instead of kids? Why aren’t we arming teachers with books instead of guns?

Other signs documented the numbers of children dying each year from gunfire. The annual number is unbelievable: 2, 737 children and growing. Remember our country’s immediate declaration of war on Al Qaeda when 9/11 took place and killed about that same number of people only once? In contrast, the killing of children involving guns continues each year without similar outrage and action.

This March for Our Lives, the student declared, was the beginning, not the end. I was amazed how many voter registration volunteers were amidst the marchers. The students spoke about engaging our nation into such radical action as voting!

How effective these students will be against the millions of dollars taken by our officials will be tested this November. What surprised me was how these youngsters spoke about their determined vigilance to elect officials that were not obligated to vote against life, but for children. They claimed they are in it for the long-term, for their dead friends.

As the march continued along Columbus Circle, the sidewalks were full of others, fenced out, holding supportive signs, who were unable to enter the march. It was only the police and the fences that were keeping us apart. Yet, I thanked as many of the police as I could because we were all trying to do our duty.

When the march ended, I reflected about my dad, a Barry Goldwaterite, who took pride in his hunting rifle. But he, champion of the underdog, would have been impressed with these youngsters standing up to a political system controlled by money.

On Saturday, March 24, 2018, the voices for change were in the air. The torch had been passed. A new generation of engaged citizens was leading the way, even in the flashy Big Apple. The children were leading us. Old-timers like me simply beamed with gratitude and marched on.

Jane Plitt, local author and speaker, can be reached at 2janeplitt@gmail.com