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On walking up and out: Kids see the danger more clearly

• Mar 22, 2018 at 4:00 PM

Last Thursday, many of our area schools had student-led walkouts. Adults and students both met in gyms, at flagpoles and on sidewalks as our youth learned to exercise their own First Amendment rights.

And I want to use this platform to point out that this is what it’s about, for me anyway. Supporting our kids, my own included, as they organized and met and planned, exchanged thousands of messages and collaborated across middle and high schools — this was about illustrating that their right to speak and to peaceful protest is just as important as the Second Amendment.

I’m kind of embarrassed as the amount of adult vitriol and belly-aching that was displayed on social media lately.

First it was Calvin Terrell coming to Grand Haven to speak to the kids there about diversity and kindness. Somehow his message was twisted into a message of “black supremacy,” “white shame” and worse. It is apparent from the number of folks who felt white-shamed that some real work around what white privilege actually is may be sorely needed.

White privilege isn’t about being shamed, and it isn’t about black supremacy; it’s about the fact that we, those of us in the small towns this paper reaches, by and large don’t get pulled over by the police because we’re white. It’s about the homogenous makeup of our towns because people of all ethnicities are priced out. It’s about realizing this and working to fix it and to own and to name it when we see it.

Because kindness in our schools is what the Walk Up message was about. Walk up to that person sitting alone and say hello, that sort of thing.

But I think that we vastly underestimate our kids, and I know that we do them a disservice when we tell them that if they’d only been nicer their peers wouldn’t come into their schools and kill people. That, my friends, is victim blaming at it’s ugliest. How could the little 5-year-olds who died at Sandy Hook possibly have been nicer to a person many years older than them? What malice do 5-year-olds have?

We put helmets on our kids when they ride scooters in our driveways; we make them buckle their seat belts and are keeping them in car seats even longer now than when my own kids were little; we talk to them about stranger danger — but every day we send them into classrooms that have a pretty atrocious safety record. You know, those “safety record” signs that hang in shops? “Days without accident or injury — days”? Usually, the more days a shop can go, the greater the reward, free lunches or small gift cards to local businesses. Maybe the signs in our local shops say 200 days, or 66 days, or 365 days — the public schools of our nation have averaged a shooting about every five days. Five days without accident or injury.

That isn’t a safety record, that is a crisis.

And the kids who are forced by law into these classrooms demand to be safe as the adults around them question their knowledge and replace their need to be safe with some sort of silly childhood passion. The adults accuse them of only wanting to skip school, or of being led covertly by a liberal media.

I confess to a feeling of general confusion. I don’t understand how limiting who can buy a gun immediately jumps to some post-apocalyptic scene of tanks rolling down suburban streets with SWAT teams going door to door demanding firearms.

Doesn’t it make sense that a person who beats their spouse and kids not be allowed to have a gun?

Doesn’t it make sense that weapons made only to kill people not be available to the public? The supposed well-regulated militia of the Second Amendment has yet to materialize — and if they do attempt to overthrow a corrupt government, it obviously won’t be this one, and that same corrupt government will over-run the most well-organized militia quickly with tanks and planes and bombs. A bump stock isn’t going to make a difference.

What I hear and what I would ask you to consider is how selfish it sounds to insist upon a right to own something that can kill people when the children of our nation are dying and our kids are afraid in their schools.

We can’t keep them forever, you know, our kids. That isn’t our job. Those of us who are parents aren’t called to make little versions of ourselves. I’m sorry to tell you, and I say it very gently and with love, that some of us are on the wrong side of history, in an ever-shrinking minority who would hold onto their own way instead of considering a different one. With change comes loss, and that’s why it makes us afraid.

But we do belong to each other, because our common lives depend upon one another’s toil. Because when something is a stumbling block to our community, we knock it the hell off. Because our kids are the canaries in the coal mine and they are calling for fresh air, for life, they are calling for change, calling out to us the danger they are in. They just see it more clearly than we do.

Change is needed and it is coming. And it won’t hurt you nearly as much as you think.

— By Alicia Hager, Tribune community columnist

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