Friday, April 6, 2018

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1608: Our children are more powerful and smarter than we know

  Our children are powerful. Our children are far more powerful than we know. They can go where we cannot go. They can do what we cannot do. They can unleash explosive energies that seemed securely bound. They can move those of us who know we need to move but can’t move. Our children are more powerful than we know.

  The power of our children was on full display with the March for Our Lives. There were more than eight hundred thousand participants at just one march in Washington, D.C., our nation’s capitol. And there were more than eight hundred other marches around the world with hundreds of thousands of marchers. That’s great power. But the power of our children did not start with the children of today. It started a long time ago. I can’t go that far back, but I can personally go back more than half a century.

  I was a part of that youth movement in the 1960s that struggled to tear down segregation. My family by marriage was part of that movement. These children moved that which was said to be unmovable. They helped change the whole country.

  During the 1963 Birmingham Civil Rights Movement to end segregation in public accommodations, adults tried but failed. Rev. James Bevel proposed that school children should march. Many Civil Rights leaders objected. Some said it was the responsibility of adults. But too few adults were meeting that responsibility. Some adults, under the courageous leadership of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, had been fighting for years. But those terrible times required a movement. Therefore, the children were allowed to march. They marched by the thousands, and they were jailed by the thousands. It was called the Children’s Crusade. When the children were attacked by vicious dogs and powerful streams of water propelled by fire hoses, the adults finally moved. Without the children marching, we likely would not have the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

  In Selma, it was the children moving that initially moved the Voting Rights Movement. Some brave adult leaders such as the Courageous Eight had been moving. But there was no movement. Then Bernard Lafayette helped unleash the children of Selma. Those were high school and junior high school students. That movement came and moved adults in big ways. Even teachers marched. Most of those on the Bridge on Bloody Sunday were young people. The key role of children in the Selma Voting Rights Movement is not widely known. However, without the Selma school children, we may not have the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Our children are more powerful than we know.

  Then there were the youth who went forth in the Deep South fighting for voting rights in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, etc. They risked their very lives to challenge violent political oppression. They also sacrificed their college careers. They helped bring about the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

  Then we had the Anti-Vietnam War Movement. Youth led the way. Most were college students. They said these young people could not end the Vietnam War. But the war was brought to a halt.

  Now we have another powerful children's movement. Our children are being shot down en masse in schools with weapons of war. Still, many adults are saying that there is no way to enact meaningful gun control legislation. They say the gun lobby is too powerful. They point to those who have tried and failed. However, these young people demand that we ban assault rifles and other weapons of war. They refuse to accept the limitations imposed by past failures. They refuse to be bound by limitations posed by present political positions.

  This movement is different from the previous youth movements. First, it was initiated and sustained by high school students. Second, it involves more white children than children of color. Third, they have been inclusive, reaching out to others across lines of differences. Fourth, our children have framed the issue as a choice between life and death. This is a truly historical movement.

  These youth leaders have experienced death. They feel the threat of death. They are moved by the fear of death for themselves and others. They are also moved by the hope of preventing more mass murders in schools.

  When our children really move, we adults will follow. That has been true in every movement. A huge majority of Americans want to ban weapons of war such as AR-15 assault rifles but cannot bring themselves to move. Our children demand that these weapons of war be banned. Our children demand that related weapons of war materials be banned. Our children are going where most adults want to go but have not been able to go. Our children will take us where we need to go, where we must go. It is a matter of life and death.

  I am amazed at how much our children have accomplished in little more than a month. Florida has passed some gun control legislation although it is grossly inadequate. Congress included token gun legislation in the last budget act. Our children have held one of the largest marches in history with 800,000 to 900,000 just in our nation’s capital. There were hundreds of thousands at more than 800 other marches around the world. Our children are on the move. They have found their voices. They have hit their stride. They are not only promising to vote themselves, but they are demanding that we vote to protect their lives. How can we refuse? Our children are more powerful than we know.

Epilogue – We do not know the power of our children. But we fear the power of our children. We fear that our children’s power will be unleashed. We fear that power will cause them to be hurt or others to be hurt. We should not fear. Our children are smarter than we know.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents Senate District 23 in the Alabama Legislature.

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