What it means to March for our lives. By Lorie Honor
As a teacher, I have spent most of my 24 year-career participating in shelter-in drills. Over the years I have sheltered-in with hundreds of elementary school kids, huddled in a dark corner of my tiny room, covering kids with my body while winking and smiling at the same time, often performing a strange pantomime; me kicking and punching the bad guys, so that the kids know they're safe with me and everything's going to be fine.
Sometime we mime throwing things at the door. Super quiet. In super slow motion. It's just a game to keep them from thinking that someone could ACTUALLY come in with a gun and shoot us. Which is the purpose of the drill. Something I have never said out loud to an 8 year-old.
All teachers know that no amount of shelter in drills can stop the evil intent that teachers and students have been practicing for since Columbine. In 1999. But we crouch in corners and make believe.
Every year there are 26 Christmas trees at St. Theresa's on Slosson and Victory, remembering each of the 26 victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School. So for the last 5 years as I drive by, I think of the 20 kids and 6 school staff and say, "Hmmm. What's it going to take to do the right thing here?" I didn't know how our country couldn't have had radically changed gun laws after Sandy Hook. And then Aurora. And then Pulse and then and then and then...
And then Parkland.
I don't know what made this so different. The Parkland shooting. And I don't know if it is because of this political climate, when we are all hopped up and ready to protest and eager to call bullshit, or it was the immediacy of the kids speaking out but I thought, if we keep it about schools protecting kids, maybe we can outsmart these law makers who don't want to touch this issue for fear of being called.....a what exactly? Moral?
Because school was closed on the Monday after Parkland for Presidents Day we had a few days to plan a rally outside of Congressman Donovan's office. I knew I wanted to keep it about kids and teachers so community teachers read the names of students and staff that were murdered at schools. And the crowd of a hundred or community members read the names of those murdered at clubs. And at movie theaters. At the end of the rally I met with Lindy Crescitilli who said that his cousin was a Parkland survivor and he asked for my help in organizing March for Our Lives buses to DC. This was assuming that there was going to be a march.
Lindy was a crack organizer and did tons of the heavy lifting. He brought on youth organizer and newly woke kid, John Papanier from Wagner. Not sure how we did it exactly but buses and money appeared. Well, I do know how we did it. EVERYONE said YES. Every Democratic politician wanted to help. Every political club wanted to participate. Every school. Every youth group. Everyone donated seats....so that our kids could stand with the rest of the country. And all we grown ups wanted to to was make it happen. So that Staten Island kids were in the ocean of kids that were standing up and walking out all over the country.
The DC "March", became a rally. With so many people and so little area to march, it was better to stay put and listen to speakers. As a teacher, I have never been more proud of American kids. They were smart. They were inclusive. They were strong. They threw up on stage and wiped their mouths and kept going. They said what we couldn't. And what we weren't. They had hope for change. They had rational demands, And they knew how to use social media. Take that Capitol Hill!
The speakers were riveting. The kids were polished by their passion and their resolve. Polished by being theater kids and debaters. And their weapon of choice, truth as survivors. Parkland using their clout to amplify and include everyone. Chicago youth. Columbine survivors now adults. Sandy Hook survivors, now teens.
On the drive to DC, we stopped at a rest stop and bought coffee and used the restrooms. Coming out of the bathroom I noticed there was a line to go in. A bus from Sandy Hook had just pulled in beside our bus and a hundred or so survivors and family and teachers from Sandy Hook were everywhere, recognizable by bright green tee-shirts with, Sandy Hook Elementary in white lettering.
I was ashamed of my ready tears. Ashamed that my country didn't respect their loss enough to become a better, kinder and gentler place.
I was self-conscious finding my way back to the bus. Passing the tribe of green-shirts from Connecticut. Because I sent money to support them, but I didn't really support them. Not as a mother. Not as a teacher. Not as an American. I didn't fight back against thoughts and prayers.
Later in the day, one of the most moving speeches was from a Sandy Hook kid, now in his late teens. As he spoke it became clear that his entire childhood, as so many survivors, had been spent as a gun control advocate. Lobbying politicians. Organizing. Showing up. Demanding change. Working when they all should have been playing. And worst of all, creating support groups for other survivors and future survivors.
So as we gear up for this election cycle, my hope is that we can tap into our survivor guilt of what we are living through. The inaction of congress during the Obama administration to create any meaningful gun legislation. The occupation of our halls of government by lobbyists and the NRA. The reality of a morality-free White House. Staten Island has a chance to flip our Congressional seat blue in 2018. We have a chance to help the country right a wrong.
We have a chance to add to the history of citizen-powered protest, not just by participating in the righteous fight, but by electing a Democrat to congress this November, to have it culminate in change for good. For good. Because like a great woman recently said, "Enough is Enough."