Essay: Young people speaking their minds

Inspired by the student activists marching this weekend for gun law changes, and by the lyrics of the Stephen Stills song “For What It’s Worth,” the writer remembers her own protest days in 1971.

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Jaylin Johnson, eighth grade, holds a sign at the recent walkout. —Gabrielle Mannino

“It’s time we stop
Hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look — what’s going down?”

What is that sound? My heart working in overdrive, beating to the rhythm of my newly acquired, politically elevated blood pressure? Those were the thoughts (and fears) running through my mind on that snowy morning last week.

“It starts when you’re always afraid
step out of line, they come and take you away”

While an old ’60s song played on the radio, I took a peek at the news (I’m trying to cut back) on my laptop, and saw the impassioned faces of our beautiful students across the country as they walked out of their schools. I realized it was my blood pressure; it was my 20-year-old, protest-inspired youthful blood pressure. But more than that, it was hope beating its courageous wings. And as fleeting as it can be sometimes, hope, like love, has no age limit, no expiration date.
We are living in surreal times, which are affecting not only our personal lives and health but our country’s political future. Our democracy is on the line, we have everything to lose, but at the same time we have even more to gain if we’re willing to stand up and fight for it.
I’ve always believed “adversity creates opportunity,” which is a good thing for me, because like most people, I’ve had my share of adversity. To me, though, this is not a “glass half full/half empty” promise or philosophy, this is a “God works in mysterious ways” philosophy. And whether or not you have one ounce of religion or spirituality in you, know this: There is something very astonishing going on, just look around.

“There’s something happening here
what it is ain’t exactly clear”

The recollections I have from my hippie protest days are truly some of the memory gems I am most thankful for. Those days bonded me for life with my fellow activists, and I am sure there are millions of us still alive and still kicking. And most likely, like me, they are gleefully reliving those amazing times through this March for Our Lives movement, some with their grandchildren, no doubt.
For me, those times were lived out on the streets of Washington, D.C., in May 1971. As we ragtag hippies happily combed the streets those three or four days, we greeted each other with “hey brother” or “hey sister.” I had never in my young life felt such a bond and connection to people, to total strangers actually. You see, we had a common cause that came, I believe, from our collective instincts for survival. We knew we could make a difference, we knew we had to protest, we knew if we persisted together, we could end the war, and we did. We knew all these things.

“A thousand people in the streets, singing songs and carrying signs
mostly say, hooray for our side”

Our youth today, our teenagers, are also experiencing their collective survival instincts, and like we did, they are sharing it with the world. So all you bad guys out there, you had better be worried, because you have hundreds of thousands of reasons to be.

“There’s a man with a gun over there
telling me I’ve got to beware”

I have always felt somewhat sad for the generations who never got to experience the kind of comradery that my peers and I did. Like most people, I am proud and inspired by this generation’s passion and their determination to be heard. They are realizing that together they can change not only their future, but ours. And as much as I regret the circumstances, the horrific tragedies that brought these children together, I know they will be forever shaped by these days in a very positive way; I certainly was.

“Young people speaking their minds
getting so much resistance from behind”

What has happened incrementally to our society is heartbreaking. Individually, we have come to feel irrelevant and insignificant, which coincidentally ties to the thinking of: One’s vote doesn’t count. Our small businesses, where we once met, connected, and said hello, are disappearing. The hardware stores, the shopping malls, and now the grocery stores (thank God for Cronig’s some days) have been replaced by lonely times at the computer, working and buying things. Then we are made to feel even smaller when attempting to go up against “Goliath”: the big monster-size companies with their neverending, glitch-ridden technology.
These marches and protests are powerful for us as a society; they are reconnecting us once again to each other in the flesh. We have, without knowing it, been starved for this reconnect. We are finding we are not alone in all this chaos and turmoil; quite the contrary. And by being together and sharing common causes, we have discovered not only our secret weapon in the coming November elections; we’ve discovered the best medicine for the onslaught of malicious mental abuse we have daily endured.

“There are battle lines being drawn
nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong”

All the recent movements, in my opinion, began with the historic January 2017 Women’s March. That march, and the millions of people around the world who participated in sister marches, showed that when we unite, we are a force to be reckoned with. We are going to win not only the battles ahead of us; we are going to win this war, the war against our constitutional rights. I have absolutely no doubt about it. So, to all the students out there, remember this: Courage is contagious, and persistence is absolutely, flat-out crucial.

“We better stop
Children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look — what’s going down?”

Lorraine Parish is a clothing designer with a store in Vineyard Haven. Her political juices have been flowing again since last year’s Women’s March.