Editor’s Note: Jody Allard is a writer who lives in Seattle. She writes primarily about parenting, health and social issues. Follow her on Twitter @sendvodka. The views expressed here are solely those of the author.
When I heard about the “March for Our Lives” being organized across the country, I turned to social media to see if there was one planned in Seattle, where we live. I didn’t find one, so I made a mental note to check back in a few days. My 17-year-old daughter did me one better: She started her own.
My daughter and her peers have shown me that change is possible and perhaps even inevitable. In only a few days and weeks, teens across the country have heard the rallying cry of Parkland survivors and created dozens of local “March for Our Lives” events. My daughter has held meetings, prepared press releases, spoken to media, run social media accounts and even worked with T-shirt designers to create merchandise to raise money for our local event and the national one. And she’s just one teen, in one city. There are dozens more just like her.
After her first meeting, she still came home frustrated. One of the adults, with plenty of experience and connections, kept trying to take over. “This is supposed to be teen-led,” she told me. I nodded and replied: “Adults have had decades to fix this. Remind her that this movement belongs to teens.”
Adults like me have been talking about school shootings since Columbine, one year before my daughter was born. We kept talking about it through Sandy Hook, when she was 12, and we shook our heads and did nothing as the death toll climbed with each passing year.
I’m ashamed of my own complicity and inaction now. Rather than letting my fear and anger inspire me to action, I accepted school shootings as a part of life. I sent my daughter and her six siblings to ever-increasingly secure schools and searched for bulletproof backpacks for my kids online, and still I waited for someone else to solve the problem.
I was a teenager when I attended my own first protest – against the Gulf War, in a small city south of Seattle. Only 12 people showed up (one-quarter of whom were my family). I had grown up listening to my mother’s stories about 1960s protests, but I was a child of the late 1980s and early 1990s. My teen years were defined by grunge music and a sense of futility. That tiny protest in the park solidified my sinking sense that activism was a waste of time. I knew the world needed to change, but I had no idea how I could play a role in that change or if such a thing was even possible.
That’s one reason why I’ve long talked to my kids about news and current events. Our family group chat reads like the day’s headlines, as my three teenagers and I share and discuss the day’s news. But I’ve often wondered whether any of my attempts to inspire a commitment to activism have really sunk in.
Three years ago, I took my kids to their first protest in Seattle. It was the summer of 2014 and Michael Brown had just been shot by police in Ferguson. I worried about taking them at a young age, but I also believed it was important for them to know they have a responsibility to speak out against injustice.
When people heard I was planning to take my kids to a protest, they had a lot to say – and none of it was very positive. Strangers on social media told me I should have my kids taken away, and friends expressed their well-meaning concerns. None of us knew what would happen that night and I was nervous, but it was important to me that our family take a stand.
Since that night, my kids and I have attended dozens of protests: some together, some on our own. My teenage daughter even participated in a week-long advocacy training for teens held by the ACLU last summer in Washington, DC. While we were there, she stayed at the Capitol building until 3 a.m. protesting against the repeal of Obamacare. She came home brimming with outrage and passion, but life soon interfered with her plans to change the world. Instead of organizing, her days were filled with schoolwork and after-school jobs.
The school shooting in Parkland on Valentine’s Day changed all that. For the first time, my daughter saw herself as an organizer. And while the bravery and heroism of the survivors – who have created a national movement amid their grief – is largely to thank for that, I find myself thinking back to those earlier protests she and I attended together and wondering if they made more of an impact than I thought. On my daughter, certainly – and also on her teenage peers who have never attended protests of their own, but have still spent the last three and a half years watching others take to the streets.
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I never imagined children would be the ones to lead the fight against gun violence. As adults, we should have been the ones to lead the way. But in the absence of our leadership, I’m proud of our children who have taken our places at the front lines of this fight.
Adults had the chance to end the epidemic of school shootings, and we failed. Now it’s time to ask our kids what we can do to support them in their fight – not as partners or leaders, but as allies.